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Taking Life One Stitch At A Time

By Pamela Mercer

of The Orlando Sentinel

Published in The Orlando Sentinel on June 11, 2000

KISSIMMEE --  Every week, Aida Etchegoyen teaches her nine students -- eight women and a man -- how to make lace. After spending years perfecting the craft in Puerto Rico, the 72-year-old is lending her talents to one of the first activities of Osceola County`s newly formed Association of Puerto Rican Culture.

Although lace is not Puerto Rican in origin, it is nevertheless a Puerto Rican pastime, and that is what the association is all about.

Etchegoyen`s lessons in making bobbin lace, or, to use the Spanish term, mundillo, are the first of several activities the association has planned in an effort to spread and revive the culture and traditions many Puerto Ricans here have left behind.

Before coming to Florida 11 years ago, Etchegoyen worked for the Puerto Rican government teaching mundillo. Since then, she has exported her talents, teaching others and giving demonstrations and exhibitions of her work at Walt Disney World resort hotels.

"Since I was young, I have done many things with my hands," she said. "I am trying to educate people so that they know what this is."

Judith Rojas, the association`s president, says the group has attracted 62 members here, mostly from Poinciana and Buenaventura Lakes, where there are large Puerto Rican populations. Since January, the group has been meeting on the first Thursday of each month at the Osceola Center for the Arts.

It is the children that Rojas most wants to attract, and the supremacy of hamburgers and inline skating that she seeks to stem.

"We adults know something of the culture. It is the children that are losing their roots," she said. "The kids here know they are Puerto Rican, but they don`t have any activities in common."

The association plans to recruit a volunteer to teach children how to make puppets known as caretas vejigantes, a series of carnivalesque characters that have long been popular on the island. Cypress Elementary has agreed to donate space for the lessons, which will cost about $5 per session, Rojas said. The association was formed in November as the latest outgrowth of the Center for Puerto Rican Culture, a governmental group that has its headquarters in San Juan and chapters in Orlando, Miami and New York. Originally conceived as a new arm of the Center for Osceola County, the association decided to break ranks and exist independently so it could recruit local talent to offer educational programs and workshops on Puerto Rican culture. For now, however, the nonprofit group, whose directors are all volunteers, remains strapped for funds and plans to seek help from local sponsors and organizations. Etchegoyen, who charges $10 per class, uses the proceeds to buy material such as cotton thread, and to pay for the use of the BVL Community Center, where the classes are held. The Osceola Center for the Arts has also lent a helping hand.

How much more the group offers will depend on how many people it can find who still know enough of Puerto Rico`s traditions to pass them down.

"We`re looking for people who can give lessons in theater, in crafts," Rojas said. "In any resource they can help us in."

Keeping tradition. Lace-maker Aida Etchegoyen turns an art form into a celebration of Puerto Rican tradition.



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