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St. Petersburg Times

Reawakening Island's Culture


April 28, 2003
Copyright © 2003
St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved. 

TAMPA -- Hector Encarnacion said he left his native Puerto Rico three months ago in seach of a place with nice weather, friendly people and an opportunity to celebrate his culture.

On Sunday, he found all three.

Encarnacion, 52, was one of thousands of Boricuas wearing the red, white and blue of their island's flag at the 15th annual Puerto Rican Festival and Parade in Ybor City.

Organizers estimated about 40,000 people attended the all-day event.

"I'm meeting a lot of these people for the first time and it's like they're family," said Encarnacion, who has made Tampa his home. He joined a group of about 12 men who were beating on drum heads and singing songs in Spanish.

"We know the same songs, we sing to the same tune and there's nothing strange about it because we have the same culture," said Encarnacion. "And when you have the same culture, it's easy to communicate."

Sandra Acevedo, president of the Puerto Rican Cultural Parade of Tampa Inc., which organized the festival, said Tampa was the first city in Florida to host a large Puerto Rican celebration.

Acevedo said her mother, Gloria Rivera, moved to Tampa from Puerto Rico in 1987 and couldn't find a festival that celebrated the island anywhere in the state.

"She promised the people in Puerto Rico she would bring the first festival to Florida, and 1,500 people came the first year," said Acevedo.

She said about 200 people flew to Tampa from Puerto Rico to participate in this year's festival, which cost about $100,000 to put on. Festivalgoers weren't charged for attending. The money to pay for the event came from sponsors and the more than 60 vendors, said Acevedo.

About 80 organizations had registered to be in the parade that went along Seventh Avenue.

There was plenty of food, arroz con gandules, pescado and carne frita, lots of refrescos, like coconut milk right out of the coconut and musica, musica, musica.

"Puerto Ricans are party people," said Jennifer Perez, 18, last year's queen of the Puerto Rican parade. "It's our spirit that makes the party. There's always music."

"When we play (Spanish songs) we feel the music," said Encarnacion. "You can't explain it in words. You just have to be there."

From top left, Rene Velez, Hector Encarnacion, Juan Rivera, Juan Martinez and Johnny Nedina perform plena music Sunday during the 15th annual Puerto Rican Festival and Parade. "Once you start listening, you become alive again," said Encarnacion, who moved to Tampa from Puerto Rico three months ago.

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