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South Florida Sun-Sentinel
S. Broward Festival Focuses On Latins
By Susan Wittman
May 5, 2002
Fernando Bermudez of Weston and Ivan Negron of Davie met at a Boy Scout camp in their native Puerto Rico nearly 40 years ago, when they were 14. The two men last saw each other five years ago.
Neither knew the other had moved to Broward County until they met by chance at the first festival sponsored by the Mujeres Latinas Impulsando Mujeres Latinas organization last weekend at the Weston Town Center.?
"I came to the festival because we wanted to see and meet other Latin people who live here," said Bermudez, who moved to Weston in August.
Mujeres Latinas Impulsando Mujeres Latinas -- Latin Women Empowering Latin Women -- was established in 1999 to help Hispanic women and their families adapt to life in the United States.
The Weston-based organization reflects and celebrates the growing Latin presence in Broward and especially in Weston, a city where 30 percent of the population is Hispanic, according to the 2000 census. The group's more than 200 members come from 19 Latin American countries and Spain.
Mujeres Latinas, which has a membership roster mostly from Weston but also from Pembroke Pines and Miramar, helps members integrate in several ways.
One member, Claudina Estrada of Weston, oversees educational and cultural activities such as English classes and art classes, poetry readings and culinary events. The organization's Kids in Action program offers members' children a chess club and dance and drama classes.
Estrada, a native of the Dominican Republic, moved to Weston five years ago.
"My department informs the Latin population about the educational system in the United States, which is completely different," she said. "We have to educate our people."
A business committee under the direction of M. Alexandra Gonzalez of Davie plays host to monthly business-card exchanges and to seminars conducted by volunteers with the Service Corps of Retired Executives.
And Laura Bercovich of Weston directs the family health committee, which invites specialists to speak to members about nutrition, health and exercise. The group has organized Saturday yoga classes and walks.
For the festival at the Town Center, the culinary arts group sold homemade spicy chicken from Peru, Bolivian meatballs, plantains from Puerto Rico, and empañadas and coconut rice from Colombia. Proceeds from ticket and food sales covered the nonprofit organization's expenses, said Mujeres Latinas president Cinthya Figueroa, a Pembroke Pines resident originally from Panama.
On the Town Center stage, gaily costumed dancers from Weston-based Bailes Ferrer Flamenco Dance Company performed flamenco and folkloric dances as Latin bands played.
There also was an art gallery featuring works by members, plus business and arts and crafts exhibits.
Figueroa said she is proud of the group's involvement in the community.
"Every day we are approached by more women who share the same concerns as ours, finding an open door, a shoulder to lean on, and a new family to accompany them in the difficult process of adapting," she said.
Niloa Gonzalez grew up on a ranch in Venezuela, where her father trained champion Paso Fino horses. The Davie resident, who has painted for 30 years, exhibited pastels of her beloved horses.
"In my country I had horses. Here, it is more expensive to keep them," she said. "Mujeres Latinas has helped and supported me for [helping find] my job, for different activities."
Artist Carmen Sasieta moved from Peru to Weston seven years ago.
"I received a lot of support when I first came here," she said. "I found good people and friends."
Former Mujeres Latinas president Mappy Salcedo founded the organization in 1999 with just seven women.
"The good turnout at the festival met our objective to let people know we are part of the community here," the Weston resident said. "The role of Latin women is to help provide a wonderful melting pot."
Salcedo recently became a citizen, said Ruth Jacobson, of the Women's History Coalition. Jacobson, the wife of Weston City Commissioner Ed Jacobson, said she is working with Mujeres Latinas in partnership with the League of Women Voters.
"At the next Latinas meeting we are going to have her sign to register to vote," Jacobson said
"The League of Women Voters will explain how to become a citizen and what's happening in Broward County because they all want to become citizens now."
Mujeres Latinas meets on the second and fourth Tuesday of every month from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at the Weston Regional HealthPark, 2300 N. Commerce Parkway. Call 954-389-1944.