Festival celebrates independence, vibrant culture
By Ken Ma
Sentinel Staff Writer
Thousands of people from Central Florida's Colombian community created a sea of yellow, red and blue Sunday to celebrate their homeland's independence nearly 200 years ago from Spanish colonial rule.
Dressed in the tricolors of the South American nation's flag, they rallied to express their pride and showcase their culture during the second annual Colombian Independence Festival of Orlando and Central Florida.
Enrique Hernandez came to the United States 16 years ago, but he said he still feels a strong connection to his homeland.
Colombia's independence, he said, is a big deal.
"It means a lot," said Hernandez, 27, of Orlando. It "should be a time for people to start making peace in our country and stop making wars."
Festival organizer Henry Suarez said the event, in an area known as Outlet Park behind Belz Factory Outlet malls in Orlando, was started last year to provide a cultural event for Colombians living in Central Florida. It's also a good way to honor the liberation of Colombia by Simon Bolivar in the early 1800s.
Escaping the sweltering heat and smothering humidity under a white tent, Hernandez wore a tank top splashed with his native country's colors while waiting to put on a traditional outfit to perform cumbia, a folkloric dance.
Dancing in pairs, the men wore white shirts and pants, straw hats, red bandannas, black shoes and yellow bags.
Hernandez's stepsister, Ana Andrade, 19, said she enjoys performing the dance because it's a link to her culture. "It brings me back to what my parents went through when I was young," said Andrade, who wore a red-and-white dress.
The dance, she said, varies depending on the region of Colombia. She and her family, in four pairs, dance cumbia the way it's done in Barranquilla, the coastal city where she was born.
Beyond folkloric dance, the festival featured live performances from Latin pop stars including Andy Montanes, Carlos Daniels and Son de Cali.
"Everybody wants a taste of our culture and music," said Daniels of West Palm Beach.
The blare of Colombian music mixed with the smell of the country's traditional foods. Under dozens of white tents, slabs of meat were slowly cooking on large metal racks, while food such as plantain, tamales, and beef on skewer sticks were on display.
Gloria Diaz, 55, of Altamonte Springs munched on a corn tortilla with cheese, as she sat with her husband under the shade of a giant blue umbrella. "I like the music, the food and the people," she said.
Hernandez said he thinks the festival will help Central Floridians become more aware of the Colombian community.
"Everybody mostly focuses on the Puerto Ricans," he said. The festival "is a nice way to say we [Colombians] are here, but in a good way."
Ken Ma can be reached at 386-851-7914 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2005