It's a historic year for LDS Latinos worldwide.
For Mexican members of the Church, 2006 marks the 125th anniversary of the organization of the Church in their homeland after American missionaries made their first forays into Mexico. The developing LDS history in Mexico is a success story. Today, some 1 million members live in Mexico, and enjoy the blessings of a dozen temples.
The lives of Spanish-speaking people everywhere have also been blessed by the translation of the Book of Mormon into their own language 120 years ago.
These two pivotal anniversaries were foundations Saturday, Oct. 21, for the Church's annual Latino cultural celebration held at the Conference Center. And, once again, finding a ticket to the popular event wasn't a simple task. Thousands filled the hall, applauding and singing along with the hundreds of dancers and choir members who performed on an ornate, Mesoamerican-themed stage.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve enlisted his best Spanish, calling the event "un programa excelente" an excellent program.
"What a wonderful way to get together this evening as brothers and sisters and friends and neighbors," he said.
Elder Ballard used his brief remarks at the conclusion of the program to speak of the value of all who attended the event, which included many who are not Church members. "We want every one of you at the Conference Center to know how much our Heavenly Father loves each and every one of you."
The festive cultural program dubbed "Treasures of the Americas" featured folk dances and songs from a variety of cultures and lands including Hawaii, Samoa, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Native American cultures of the United States. Each performance was flavored with native costumes rich in color and design and was accompanied by live folk music. A diverse chorus filled the Conference Center seats generally filled by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Additional music and dance was performed in the Conference Center lobbies prior to the main program.
The widely told legend of a light-skinned god who visited historic cultures and taught them to live in peace and love served as a narrative theme throughout the evening. The legend is somewhat ubiquitous interpreted by cultures ranging from the ancients of the Americas to the island people of the South Pacific. President John Taylor, as taught in the program, had spoken of the similarities between the legend of the light-skinned god and the Book of Mormon account of Christ's visit to the Americas.
Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Seventy spoke of the value of the Book of Mormon in his inspirational message.
"When we read the Book of Mormon, we feel that the words are true," Elder Clayton said. "I testify that the Book of Mormon is true."
Folks who attended said the event helped them learn more about their own culture and others.
"Events like this help unite Latino members," said Pablo Luque, a native of Sonora, Mexico, now living in Salt Lake City.
Colombian Church member Henry Labrador said the event gave him an opportunity to invite his Latino friends to learn more about the Church in a comfortable, entertaining environment.
Such friends invited Ramon Cepeda of Mexico.
"I was asked by one of my Mormon friends to come," he said. "I'm glad I did. This helps us learn about others."
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