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South Florida Sun-Sentinel

A Time For Tradition

By Peter Bernard

January 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002
South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

Hispanics around South Florida celebrated Three Kings Day on Sunday.

About 150 people seeking an intimate setting went to a Three Kings Day celebration at C.B. Smith Park in Pembroke Pines, enjoying traditional Puerto Rican food and a rumba circle.

"We're just getting started," said Frank Nieves, president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Broward County, which sponsored the event. "I'd like to see this become an annual event."

Moving to Pembroke Pines from Puerto Rico six months ago, the Rojas family thought they would come out to celebrate the holiday at the park.

"It's such a big thing in Puerto Rico," said Darlene Rojas, who came with her husband, Victor, and 3-year-old son Victor Andres. "It's a religious celebration and a tradition of the Latin people."

Event-goers paid $6 for a plate of homemade food including roast pork, sweet rice and pastries. The salsa group Yaonde also performed.

Nieves said he organized the celebration to enable Broward County Hispanics to gather for Three Kings.

"We are keeping the traditions alive," said Nieves, who added that he would like to see the event grow next year.

For Puerto Rico native Walter Velez, Three Kings Day is like a Spanish Santa Claus.

"Three Kings is a cultural thing," said Velez of Miami. "Something like this brings me back to the time when I was a little kid."

Between 300 and 400 people attended the Aztec Mexican Organization of Palm Beach County's first Festival of the Three Kings at Dreher Park in West Palm Beach.

The group frequently crowded under the pavilion to escape the rain. But the rain didn't stop men dressed as the three kings from passing out gifts to children. The rain was also no match for the music, the eating of traditional celebratory kings bread and Mexican favorites, and the breaking of piñatas.

These traditions were important to organizers Angie Sanchez, Dora Loa and Angel Guerro. They hoped the festival would unite Palm Beach County Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, allowing some to enjoy something familiar from home and helping others learn more about their heritage.

As she joined thousands of onlookers at the barricades lining Calle Ocho to watch Little Havana's Three Kings Day Parade, Miami resident Maria Carpio recalled her long history with the holiday.

"For my family, this is the last celebration of the holiday season," Carpio said. "When I was a little girl in Cuba, we used to get presents and put grass in a box outside for the camels to eat when the Three Kings arrived."

Organizers of the annual Three Kings Day Parade and Festival expected a turnout of about 500,000 for their all-day celebration. The day began with a parade filled with celebrities, politicians, marching bands and colorful floats.

After the parade, revelers were treated to a street festival with Hispanic music, including performances by Tito Ray Y Su Grupo Melao and Willy Chirino. The event closed Calle Ocho between Southwest Fourth and 27th avenues until midnight.

"I've been coming to this parade every year since 1980," Carpio said. "It's still my favorite party of the holidays."

Three Kings Day, also known as Epiphany, honors the day the three wise men, or magi, arrived in Bethlehem to honor the newborn Jesus. In some Central and South American countries, the holiday rivals Christmas. Children receive gifts, and families and friends spend the day celebrating.

For 31 years, Miami's Cuban-Americans have celebrated the event in Little Havana with a parade that attracts Hispanics of all nationalities as well as many non-Hispanics.

Crowds applauded a parade with a decidedly patriotic flavor, cheering as much for the prominently featured municipal police and firefighters and soldiers as for parade's grand marshal, merengue star Elvis Crespo, and honorary grand marshal, Jose Canseco.

The Little Havana event was sponsored by the Hispanic Broadcasting Corp. and four Miami radio stations, AMOR 107.5, Radio Mambi 710 AM, Salsa 98.3 FM and WQBA 1140 AM.

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