The Miami Herald
December 8, 2000

Song, dance highlight Nicaraguan fest


 As La Gigantona stepped to the beat, her long arms moved in rhythm and the
 golden chains around her neck glittered and spun.

 The 12-foot doll representing Nicaragua's indigenous community was one of the
 many traditions displayed Thursday night to commemorate La Gritería, an annual
 festival dedicated to the Virgin Mary. As La Gigantona strutted about the patio
 dance floor accompanied by songs of praise and a five-foot dancing partner known
 as El Enano, ``the dwarf,'' a growing crowd -- expected to reach at least 2,000 --
 cheered the pair on.

 ``Will anyone lend her a fan?'' asked emcee Denis Perex Sevilla, who served as
 the event organizer at Yambo Restaurant, 1643 SW First St. Yambo has
 celebrated Nicaragua's patron saint annually for 18 years.

 Members of the audience were invited to approach the flowered altar and sing to
 the Virgin.

 Consuelo Peralta did so, celebrating the holiday for the first time in 12 years.
 Originally from Nicaragua, Peralta recently moved to Miami from Puerto Rico,
 where the holiday is not observed.

 ``It's something that cannot be forgotten,'' she said.

 Although prayer and songbooks were distributed, most in the crowd knew the
 words by heart. They also feasted on traditional fare such as roasted beef strips,
 fried cheese and plantains.

 Many brought children and explained to them the religious and cultural
 significance of the holiday.

 ``It's a devotion we Nicaraguans have through our faith, which was taught to us by
 our families,'' said Rene Ferretti, who has lived in the United States for 19 years.

 Marlon Blandón added: ``Here we are able to reunite a tiny piece of Nicaragua.''

 The two childhood friends had not seen each other in months until running into
 one another at the celebration.

 Yet everyone came together to honor a distinctively Nicaraguan night. Jasmin
 Pérez, who visits Miami frequently, observed the celebration was almost exactly
 the same as in her home country:

 ``It's nice to feel that there is a part of Nicaragua in Miami.''