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Dover Gets A Taste Of Puerto Rican Heritage…Spanish-Speaking Population Growing Quickly In North Port

Dover Gets A Taste Of Puerto Rican Heritage

Eugene Mulero; Daily Record

May 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Daily Record. All rights reserved.

DOVER -- Tono DeJesus sang a "seis choriado" about the Puerto Rico countryside at Saturday's Le-Lo-Lay festival at Casa Puerto Rico on West Blackwell Street.

His voice was raspy and rough, but filled with emotion. Some in the crowd sang along, while others listened attentively. DeJesus was one of about a dozen singers to grace the small stage to perform typical styles of Puerto Rican music, including "la plena," la danza,""bolero," and "la pachanga," a variation of "salsa."

More than 80 people were on hand by late Saturday afternoon for the annual two-day event. Organizers expect more than 200 people today, many from Paterson, Newark and Jersey City.

Besides music, many people enjoyed dishes of very traditional Puerto Rican foods like roasted pork, green bananas filled with meat, rice and beans, cod fish patties, fried plantains and baked stuffed potatoes. The bar inside Casa Puerto Rico lacked Medalla Light, the authentic beer of Puerto Rico, but it made it up with a wide selection of rums from the island.

"You have to go to San Juan for a Medalla," one bartender said, while pouring an American brand beer.

For the past 10 years, the management at Casa Puerto Rico has hosted the festival at the corner of West Blackwell and Prospect streets. This year, they dedicated the event to Jorge Lopez, a founding member of Casa Puerto Rico and the festival. Lopez disappeared 10 years ago in Puerto Rico and authorities still have not found him. Lopez's younger brother, Nuno Lopez, attended the event this year. He traveled from Bayamon, P.R., and brought a camcorder to videotape the festivities.

'Important tradition'

"I was here for the first one and I videotaped it. This is an important tradition for the town that brings us together,"Nuno Lopez said, standing next to a pig roast. "The food is good, the music is good and the people are friendly."

Lopez's son, Jorge Lopez Jr., brought his family. He was happy with the turnout and, from time to time, explained to his 3-year-old daughter, Christina, what kind of music the band was playing.

"This is what is beautiful about our culture. We are united and we like to have fun,"Lopez Jr. said. "The most important things are country, family and culture."

Cleofe Nieves, a longtime Dover resident, has attended every Le-Lo-Lay. Originally from Aguadas, P.R., he moved to Dover about 30 years ago, when he was 17.

"I love this event. It helps preserve our culture and teaches the younger generation about their heritage,"Nieves said, smiling.

Place in the community

Casa Puerto Rico is operated by Club Aguade, a non-profit members-only social club. It formed more than 30 years ago by Lopez and other Latinos who wanted to secure their place in the community, according to the club's current president, Eddie Acevedo.

"This festival is not just for Puerto Ricans. We invite all nationalities to come and enjoy what we have to offer," Acevedo said.

The club donates its space to charitable organizations and contributes gifts during the holidays for less-fortunate children, Acevedo said. Le-Lo-Lay is the club's summer kick-off festival. They have another during Labor Day weekend.

Dover Mayor Javier Marin, a Club Aguade member, showed up on Saturday. He talked to people in the crowd and was impressed with the turnout.

"This festival demonstrates the important contributions of Latinos in the community,"Marin said. "We are proud to be Hispanic and American."

Spanish-Speaking Population Growing Quickly In North Port


May 30, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved.

Sarasota Herald-Tribune

NORTH PORT -- When Jose Osorio moved to North Port 10 years ago, memories of his Nicaraguan homeland still fresh in mind, he didn't see a lot of people who looked like him.

Today, Osorio said, he can't go to the grocery store without bumping into new North Port residents of Central and South American descent. The city is experiencing a rapid influx of natives and descendents of Spanish-speaking countries, he said.

The 40-year-old forklift operator is lobbying the city for a Spanish-speaking community center to provide the growing population with resources such as employer contacts and home-buying information. He contends that Spanish-speakers will need these services to thrive here.

Osorio described North Port's community of native Spanish- speakers as tight knit.

"This Spanish community, we communicate," Osorio said. "Everywhere I go, I see a lot of Spanish people and they say 'hey, do you know where's places to work?'"

Census numbers back up Osorio's claim of a growing presence in town. The 2000 census shows a threefold increase in Hispanic people in North Port since 1990, from 271 to 739. The jump came at a time when North Port's total population grew from 11,973 to 22,797, census figures state.

Around the county, the Hispanic population jumped from 5,882 to 14,142, or from 2.1 percent to 4.3 percent, census figures show.

City officials claim North Port's total population is now closer to 40,000, and that people of Central and South American descent have been moving in at an even faster rate.

Watching it grow

Osorio, who is proud of his status as a legal U.S. citizen, moved to Maryland from Nicaragua in 1989. He said he moved to North Port 10 years ago to escape the crime, "violencia" and fast pace of the Washington, D.C., suburbs.

Frank Marx, a friend whom Osorio met years ago in Honduras, recommended the move to North Port -- then a sleepier, more sparsely populated city. Marx, who still lives in North Port, said the city has provided Osorio with a place to make a life for himself.

"He raised a family and he made good progress since he came over to the country," Marx said.

Osorio operates a forklift at a Publix warehouse in Sarasota. His wife, Lourdes, works as a plan specialist for PGT Industries. The couple are raising three children, Javier, 16, Yasser, 15, and Karina, 10.

Osorio said his community center plan could be a joint effort between government agencies, private nonprofits and businesses. He said he has contacted the United Way of Sarasota and the Hispanic Latino Coalition of Sarasota for help, and he plans to approach the City Commission soon.

He said the center could benefit North Port's Spanish-speaking native community with access to legal services, HIV education, youth programs and computer literacy, for example.

Alex Young, director of United Way of Sarasota, said Spanish- speaking services are key throughout the county. He said the United Way has not formally discussed Osorio's idea, but its staff is in contact with him.

"While a number of human services agencies over the past six or seven years have added Spanish-speaking staff, there's still not a lot," Young said. "With language as a challenge, you have that fear of bureaucracy that comes with coming into a new country."

Leaders expecting more

City Commissioner Joseph Fink, who is also a public school substitute teacher, said he sees more Spanish surnames in North Port schools every year. Those names include Osorio's three children.

Fink said a Spanish-speaking community center would be a good idea if it can be financially feasible. He said North Port will only see more Central and South American descendents as the city grows.

"We are experiencing what I would call a larger Latino community in North Port," Fink said.

Fink points to the popularity of Spanish grocery store El Paisano as evidence that the Central and South American population is taking root in North Port.

Flags of Central and South American nations line the outside wall of El Paisano's Biscayne Plaza storefront.

Bottles of Jarittos, a Mexican soda, and bags of plaintain chips adorn the racks inside the tiny store, which is located alongside one of the city's many European delis.

County Commissioner Shannon Staub, whose district includes all of North Port, said the influx of people with Central and South American backgrounds adds to the city's eclectic mix of cultures.

North Port has long benefited from immigrants from eastern European countries, including its sizeable Ukrainian population, she said.

"I think the future is we are going to be a much more diversified county than we ever have been," Staub said.

Shirley Sullivan, a social service assistant with the city, said Osorio approached the North Port Social Service Division about the possibility of opening a Spanish-speaking community center in the city.

Sullivan said division Director Zulma Solero, who speaks fluent Spanish and whose family is from Puerto Rico, linked Osorio with the Hispanic Latino Coalition of Sarasota.

Spanish fluency is becoming more and more useful in the area, Sullivan said.

She said she's glad her children are learning it in school.

"I wish I had learned it way back when," she said.

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