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Thousands poured into Flushing Meadows Corona Park Sunday afternoon for the food, music, dancing, singing and all-out fun of the annual Colombian Festival.
Dogs, snakes, a kitten and at least one iguana joined in the humans all-day celebration, which stretched from the parking lot of Shea Stadium to the Worlds Fair Unisphere and the parks outdoor stage.
The celebration was part of a series of events for Colombian Heritage Month, which includes a parade through Jackson Heights July 29. This month marks the 191st anniversary of Colombias independence from Spain.
Music came from every direction in the park with bongo drums, string instruments and sound systems broadcasting the rhythms of local artists, along with the nearly constant main stage performances.
The yellow, blue and red of the Colombian flag overwhelmed all other colors at the festival, where many people waved large flags and wore Colombian soccer jerseys.
Thats really an important sport for us, Eliana Gaviria said. We feel it in our blood. Thats why you can see everyone wearing the shirts. Several of her family members, young and old, wore the countrys yellow and blue soccer jerseys.
We are very happy because Colombia is in the Copa America, Gaviria said about the countrys participation in the Latin American soccer tournament.
Break dancers found a flat surface near the World Fairs fountain, but it was difficult to see more than an occasional foot flying through the air above the huge crowd.
Nearby, Maritza Ospina let her green iguana, Lefty, steal some of the break dancers crowd. She and her friends sprinkled water over the massive lizard to keep him cool.
I didnt think I was going to have this much of an audience, she said.
The aroma and smoke from several grills wafted over to where Christy Garcia, Diana Perez and Adriana Rosales were getting acquainted with an albino python brought by his owner. The friendly snake stuck his tongue out at the women.
Perez is Puerto Rican and both Garcia and Rosales are Dominican, but they decided to join in the Colombian festival anyway.
We all show love for each other, Garcia said. Rosales agreed, saying: Its nice to be around Hispanic people. Its like a family.
Perez said some people gave her a hard time about the Puerto Rican flags she brought to the festival, but that did not stop her from having a good time.
Im enjoying the food, the music and the guys, Perez said.
Although many families attended, there were also plenty of young singles hanging around the fountain, trying to get the attention of the opposite sex.
Men and women came together and danced on the dusty field surrounding the parks main outdoor stage. Some sang along as performers danced and played instruments on the distant stage. Others built human pyramids above the cheering crowd.
When New York City Public Advocate Mark Green, who is a Democratic mayoral candidate, took the stage, it was almost impossible to hear him over the screaming masses.
The city of New York is proud of you, Green told the Colombian-Americans. Simon Bolivar would have been proud of you.
Bolivar was the general who led the fight for Colombian independence from Spain in the early 1800s. Bolivars victories over the Spaniards also won independence for his home country of Venezuela, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia, which separated from Peru and was named in his honor.
Soda and food native to Colombia was on hand, so Juan Zapata took the opportunity to dig into a mango-on-a-stick near the food and promotional tents.
This is my favorite, Zapata said as the mango dripped over his fingers. It is sweet and juicy.
Zapata, originally from Colombia, said he liked seeing families and others enjoying the festival.
For me, its very nice how many Colombians are here, he said. There are familiar faces.
Amanda Castano brought her young children to the celebration, reuniting them with the culture of their birthplace.
They were very little when they came here, Castano said.
Mary Jimenez came to the park with her family but lost them in the crowd. She stood on a bench dancing and waving Colombian flags above her, trying to get the attention of her husband, niece and nephew.
I enjoy everything, Jimenez, who had driven in from Connecticut. The music, the food, the people everything!
Reach reporter Betsy Scheinbart by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 138.
©2001 Community Newspaper Group
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