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Jason Olson, Deseret Morning News
Dancers perform on the stage of the LDS Conference Center Saturday night during "Luz de las Naciones," a celebration of Hispanic culture. Most Latin American countris were represented at the third annual Hispanic extravaganza, with 1,000 performers taking their turns on the stage. The event featured dances, songs and inspirational messages.

It's an old notion: Hispanic cultures celebrate events while other cultures simply commemorate them.

Whether that's fact or fiction, "Luz de las Naciones" (Light of the Nations) a song, dance and sermon extravaganza held at the LDS Conference Center Saturday, definitely was a night of celebration.

More than 16,500 members of Utah's Hispanic community came to watch and applaud. Another 1,000 came just to perform. And from the moment dozens of children took to the stage decked in a crayon-box of bright colors, the festive mood was set, only broken from time to time by the meditative strains of a hymn and the inspirational message of Elder Jay E. Jensen.

"It is so emotional to hear this many people sing the hymns in Spanish," said Mercedes Baruco of Provo — by way of Panama. "I've been waiting for this evening for a long time."

This is the third installment of the annual celebration. The first, in 2002, drew participants from 26 Hispanic wards in Utah. Now there are 46 wards. When the LDS Church released 20,000 tickets, they disappeared quickly.

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"Three cities are drawing the most people from Latin America — Raleigh, (N.C.), Houston and Salt Lake City," said Jorge Becerra, an LDS stake president chosen to help coordinate the evening. "I believe people are coming to Utah for the family values. Family is the predominant thing in the Hispanic community."

Families abounded — on stage and in the audience. And the performers from each nation were greeted with rousing ovations. Most countries were represented at some point as images from Latin America flashed on the giant television screens. Mexican dancers from Jalisco drew a thrilling response, as did dancing gauchos from Argentina and the heartrending version of "El Condor Pasa" from the Andes.

At one point, the hymn "I Stand All Amazed" was played on a solo, classical guitar while soft scenes filled the screens. And the sounds and lights and colors combined to leave a feeling of unity through prayers of gratitude and hope.

E-mail: jerjohn@desnews.com