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SO FL SUN SENTINEL
Fiestas Patronales Offers A Taste Of All Things Hispanic
By Beth Feinstein-Bartl
February 6, 2005
During visits to Puerto Rico as a child, Enrique Cabrera recalls attending Fiestas Patronales, an island tradition that dates back hundreds of years.
The festivals, stemming from the time of the Spanish conquest, are conducted throughout the island. The celebrations in each city and town are dedicated to different patron saints.
When Cabrera wants to relive those days, he looks forward to the Fiestas Patronales and Business Expo, an annual celebration organized by the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Broward County. The chamber's event, entering its fourth year, will be conducted from Thursday through Feb. 13 at Boomers! entertainment park, 1801 NW First St., Dania Beach.
"I was brought up on these festivals," said Cabrera, a Hollywood resident who was born in New York to Puerto Rican parents and then moved to the island at age 16.
"It's like a slice of home here in Broward. It's a chance to get a real taste of what the island has to offer. There's no other [local] festival that makes me reminisce about Puerto Rico."
Cabrera, a professional artist, will sell his paintings and sculptures at the event. He will also be conducting a workshop for young people on Saturday, helping them paint a mural depicting a countryside scene of Puerto Rico.
Several other artists will display their wares and hold workshops at the event too, along with food vendors, musicians, salsa dancers and booths displaying various products and services.
The festival will run from 6 p.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday; noon to midnight Saturday; and noon to 10 p.m. Feb. 13. Daily admission is $15 at the door, with children age 10 and younger admitted free.
Discounts are available, either with coupons provided at several businesses, or by purchasing the tickets in advance, said Frank Nieves, chamber president and founder of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Broward County.
Since starting the Fiestas Patronales and Business Expo, Nieves said he has watched the event increase in size, from 30 business expo booths and 1,000 people its first year to 100 booths and about 20,000 visitors in 2004. For the upcoming event, the chamber is expecting 30,000 visitors. As of Tuesday, expo space has been reserved by 110 businesses, Nieves said.
The chamber's event has many similarities to the festivals in Puerto Rico, he said.
"That's the way it was done 500 years ago," Nieves said. "We're not doing anything different. We're going back to the basics and it works very well."
One reason the chamber's festival is growing is because the organization is always adding new activities, he said.
Additions to this year's festival will include a Kids Town with pony rides, bounce houses, train rides, clowns and live entertainment.
There also will be art workshops for students from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Other new additions are a Friday night reggaeton concert focusing on the rap and dance music that's become extremely popular in Puerto Rico, and a salsa dance concert at 4 p.m. Saturday. Twenty couples will compete to represent Florida in the world salsa championships this summer in Puerto Rico, Nieves said.
Returning to the festival will be the popular salsa concerts, set for Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. The performances will be shown on large screen televisions, another feature added this year so that audiences can get a better view of the musicians on stage, Nieves said.
Elsewhere, booths at the business expo will display products and services from businesses, ranging from lawn maintenance to computer sales.
Although the chamber event is based on a Puerto Rican tradition, it is geared for the entire Hispanic community, which is the fastest growing community nationwide, with 36.7 million residents. The number is projected to be 40.6 million by 2010, Nieves said.
About 271,000 Hispanics live in Broward County, according to the 2000 U.S. census. The census bureau estimates that the number has since grown to more than 300,000, Nieves said.
"This event is put together by Puerto Ricans for the entire Hispanic community," he said.
His organization began as the Puerto Rican Chamber of Broward County in 2001, then was expanded to include the Hispanic community last year. The group has about 300 members.
"We've always been an open chamber and always had other Latin groups represented on the board," Nieves said. "We didn't want people to think the organization only represented Puerto Ricans."
The expo gets a cultural cross section of the business community.
"It's not just Latin-owned businesses," Nieves said. "If you are looking to expose your product to the Latin community, this is the expo to come to."
Folks also will find foods representing Colombia, Peru, Panama, Nicaragua, Cuba and Puerto Rico. There also will be artists representing the United States, Peru, Colombia and Puerto Rico.
"One of my missions is to preserve Hispanic culture," Nieves said.
Santos Arroyo, the chamber's membership director and a mortgage broker who lives in West Palm Beach, said booths are available to any business.
"We have several American businesses at the expo," he said. "We include everyone who wants to work with us."
IF YOU GO
What: Fourth annual Fiestas Patronales and Business Expo
When: 6 p.m.-midnight Thursday and Friday; noon-midnight Saturday; and noon-10 p.m. Feb. 13
Where: Boomers! entertainment park, 1801 NW First St., Dania Beach
Cost: Daily admission is $15 at the door, with children age 10 and younger admitted free. Discounts are available, either with coupons provided at several businesses or by purchasing tickets in advance.
Information: Call 954-806-1550, or log on to www.prfiestas.com.