Orlando celebrates Puerto Rico
Sentinel Staff Writer
Musicians, baton twirlers, dancers and politicians flocked to downtown Orlando for a celebration of one island's life and culture: Desfile Puertorriqueno de Florida, the Puerto Rican Parade of Florida.
Part of Hispanic Heritage Month, observed from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, the parade featured participants from around Central Florida as well as Puerto Rico.
"This makes me feel like I'm at home," said Annie Ortiz, a Puerto Rico native who now lives in Altamonte Springs. She stood at the edge of Robinson Street, bouncing along with the music as she waved a Puerto Rican flag.
Many in the crowd carried flags, some emblazoned with pictures of cartoon frogs representing Puerto Rico's amphibian natives, chirping coqui tree frogs.
They watched as teenage girls wearing long, ruffled dresses sauntered down Robinson Street under lacy umbrellas. Young men wearing fedoras and brightly colored shirts danced with young women in floral-print dresses. Video images of Bayamon, a Puerto Rican city outside San Juan featured in this year's parade, flashed on a screen on one float. The parade included a delegation from Bayamon -- including its mayor, and a group of men and women from a performing-arts school who walked on stilts.
"It's one of the most progressive cities in Puerto Rico," said Angela Meyer, an actress and executive assistant to the mayor. "It's becoming, I think, the most important city next to the capital. Bayamon was nothing, now it's a big and very important town in Puerto Rico."
It was an honor to be featured in the parade of a city that has such a strong Puerto Rican presence, said Ramon Luis Rivera Jr., Bayamon's mayor.
"Orlando to me is like another town of Puerto Rico," he said.
Along the roadside, Ortiz kept an eye out for her nephew, who was performing with a folkloric dance group from the city. With her was another nephew, Julio Medina, 25, of Casselberry. He had draped himself in a Puerto Rican flag, and wore a T-shirt, hat, socks and wristbands that featured the flag's designs.
"The more colors you wear, the more dedication you show for your culture," he said.
He, like many in the crowd had attended the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, considered by many the granddaddy of parades celebrating the island's heritage.
Orlando's is "not so big, but it's pretty decent," Medina said.
"It's just as good," said Moses Gonzalez, 23, sitting by the side of Robinson Street with his wife Janira and 14-month-old son Mario Emanuel.
"Every year we come, it seems it's getting bigger and bigger," Janira Gonzalez said.
Toward the back of the parade line, another group had a more somber message. Several carried posters and pictures of Filiberto Ojeda Rios, a Puerto Rican nationalist wanted in connection with a 1983 robbery, who was killed last month by FBI agents in a shootout on the island. The FBI says Ojeda Rios fired on them. Pro-independence Puerto Ricans have accused the FBI of mishandling the arrest.
"We're here demanding . . .investigations take place into the actions of the FBI," said Michael Rodriguez Muniz, a member of the National Boricua Human Rights Network. "People have been overwhelmingly supportive, waving the flags."
Sandra Pedicini can be reached at email@example.com or 407-322-7669.
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