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South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Puerto Ricans Celebrate At A Four-Day Festival In Broward
By Vicky Agnew
November 18, 2002
With a little prayer and a lot of planning, a 500-year-old Puerto Rican tradition has arrived in Broward County.
Fiestas Patronales, or festivals honoring patron saints, take place in Puerto Rico's 78 towns and throughout U.S. communities with large Puerto Rican populations. Now, the fiesta has come to Broward.
"It's been a total success," said Frank Nieves, festival organizer and president of the Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce of Broward County. "It's a Puerto Rican event for the entire Hispanic community."
The tradition of fiestas patronales dates back to Spanish colonialism. The Spaniards assigned patron saints to new towns, and in turn, the people of the towns put on festivals honoring their saints. Then, and now, the purpose was to bring together people from different communities to do business and socialize, Nieves said.
For four days, the field behind the Pembroke Pines Recreation Center at 7400 Pines Blvd., took on the role of a Puerto Rican town plaza at festival time. It was filled with carnival rides, music, dance, art, food, and most importantly, people in the mood for a good time.
And while this event held closely to tradition, organizers added a modern twist: a business-to-business trade show.
Nieves said the trade show, though new, was quick to catch on. Some 100 businesses from Florida, Chicago, New York and Puerto Rico set up booths. The businesses ranged from large banks offering accounts to T-shirt vendors and artists.
"It's a tradition that I've seen only in Puerto Rico. It's like being pioneers," said local artist Enrique Cabrera, who spent some of his boyhood in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the home of his parents. "I have a chance to express myself with pride and liberty, and at the same time share my heritage with others."
Cabrera said that in Puerto Rico, festivals last seven to 10 days and are held at different times. That way, people can travel around attending different festivals.
"You can see economy-wise, every city helps each other," he said.
Of the 3.4 million Puerto Ricans in the United States, 160,000 live in South Florida.
According to the 2000 Census, 54,938 Puerto Ricans live in Broward County, more than double the number 10 years earlier, making them the largest Hispanic group in the county.
The fiesta's biggest night, by far, was Friday, with about 10,000 people singing, dancing, eating and socializing. Saturday's heavy rains closed the event early, but at least 1,000 were gathered by mid-afternoon Sunday, dancing to live Latin music and enjoying the scene.
Angie Padilla, 14, was one of them. There with her parents and a cousin, the teen wore a Puerto Rican flag head scarf.
"It makes you proud to be Puerto Rican," the teen said.