Contreras plans to retire from his position of associate professor of Spanish at the end of the 2016-2017 school year. His retirement also ends his tenure as the event's coordinator.

Festival Romanico, which Contreras referred to as a "celebration of language," began at Eastern New Mexico University 33 years ago as an opportunity for high school students across New Mexico and Texas to celebrate their language and heritage through dance, poetry, and song.

Catalina Arana, a senior elementary education and Spanish major, has worked with Contreras on the festival for four years, and even participated before she entered college.

"It makes my heart happy seeing all these kids having fun and enjoying themselves, and showing who they are, and seeing how hard they worked on stuff, because sometimes people don't see that you worked so hard for stuff," she said, adding that Contreras has been instrumental in pushing students toward excellence.

"I feel like he pushes you, but not in a bad way. It's like, 'You can do this. I have faith in you,' and he's always there. If you need help with anything, he will always be there."

For three years, senior psychology and Spanish major Anabel Muniz Abdo has kept score during the festival, and she credited growth in her personality to Contreras' encouragement.

"I guess, in a way, he's pushed me to be a lot more outgoing, and not as timid as I was. Yes, I am the scorekeeper, but because I've been doing this for a while, I know what everyone else's job is as well, so I can help direct the people who haven't done this before. I've learned some leadership skills thanks to him," she said.

Contreras has taught Ethan Loya, a sophomore majoring in accounting and Spanish, life lessons, both within the classroom and without.

"The projects we have in class — in order to get a good grade, he forces us to express where we come from. He doesn't let us fall behind. He makes sure we're always improving," said Loya.

Above all, Contreras said his dedication to the festival comes from a desire to help his students — many of whom are first generation college students — succeed.

"When I see their needs, I feel I have to do something. I have to be like a father sometimes, I have to be like a brother, sometimes like a priest. I want to be able to help a little bit, and sometimes when I see that they don't come to my class because they have to be working at 3 a.m. or 4, that's a big thing," adding that he has seen his hard work on the festival bear fruit many times over.

"This is a celebration of languages, so when I see these guys happy, and I go out 10 years later, and I see a band that came here, and they are good, I feel good."