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Groups, electeds join forces to hold Colombian fest

Centro Civico Colombiano’s annual Colombian Independence Day Festival has been canceled due to debts owed to the city Parks Department, but health insurance company Healthfirst and elected officials will not be letting the community down for their holiday.

Healthfirst and Community Solutions, a group that produces outdoor events for nonprofits, will hold Festival de la Independencia Day Colombia Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 93rd Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights.

William McCarthy, event planner for Community Solutions, said the new festival is to be a replacement for Centro Civico Colombiano’s festival, which had been held for the last 26 years in Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

“We had some inkling that wasn’t going to happen, and we wanted to make sure the community was able to celebrate Colombia,” McCarthy said.

Centro Civico Colombiano’s festival was canceled because the group owed $17,000 to the Parks Department.

“Parks will not discuss having an event with the group until their outstanding debt is paid in full,” a spokeswoman said.

This is not the first time Healthfirst has reached out to the immigrant community. McCarthy said Healthfirst held a Colombian festival two years ago and also held a Cinco de Mayo Street Fair at the Elmhurst Hospital earlier this year and in 2010.

McCarthy said the July 23 festival will feature traditional music, Colombian foods and a full day of Colombian dance, with about eight to 12 performances.

“A complete array of Latino dance targeted at representing the country of Colombia,” McCarthy said.

In addition, the festival will have a special pavilion set up at 93rd and Aske streets for seniors. McCarthy said the pavilion will have bingo and professional instructors teaching seniors how to salsa, samba, cha cha and zumba.

City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) and state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst) support the event and have been getting the word out to their constituents, McCarthy said.

Since Jackson Heights used to be a largely Colombian community, McCarthy said the Independence Day events are important and exciting for neighborhood Colombians, and these events recognize the great things Colombians have done for the United States and for South America.

“They’re very, very passionate about where they come from and are proud of where they come from,” McCarthy said.

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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