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The Bradenton Herald

Festival Of Flowers Will Celebrate Latin Culture


March 30, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Bradenton Herald. All rights reserved. 

To Emilio Morales, it's logical for the Hispanic community to join the city's annual De Soto Springfest 2003.

After all, Hernando de Soto was a Spanish explorer. De Soto landed on the shores of Tampa Bay in what is now known as Manatee County in May 1539 and the De Soto Springfest is named for him. He is perhaps Manatee County's best-known historical figure.

Morales and his fellow members of the Hernando de Soto Society decided to make the celebration of Latin culture an official part of the De Soto Springfest this year with the Festival de las Flores (Festival of the Flowers).

Festival de las Flores will debut May 17.

Every year, New York, Miami, Orlando, Chicago and Tampa have major celebrations of Hispanic culture that have become part of their cultural landscapes.

With the Hispanic population of Manatee County growing, it's time to recognize Latin art, music, and culture, Morales said.

"In May, all the flowers bloom," said Morales, chairman of the Latin festival. "The Festival of the Flowers is a celebration of our heritage and a tribute to Bradenton's centennial."

Festival de las Flores will take place along the city's downtown waterfront on Barcarrotta Boulevard from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. May 17. Music, dancing, crafts and food, all with a Latin flair, will highlight the event.

"It won't be just salsa and jazz," Morales said. "We will have a blend of Latin music and culture. It will be all flags - Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Spain, Panama, Argentina, Mexico, Columbia."

The Latin-flavored bands, Mango and Electrico, will perform, as will dance troupes from Bayshore High School and Rowlett Elementary School. Morales said he was negotiating with a few nationally known musical acts at press time.

Also under consideration was a Flower Queen scholarship pageant for girls of Latin heritage who are between the ages of 15 and 18.

Further entertainment and pageant details will be announced as the festival date draws near.

Manatee County is starting to take notice of its Hispanic population, said Maria Matos of Bradenton, a master of ceremonies and an organizer of the event.

The 2000 national census found that Hispanics are the largest minority group in America, outnumbering African-Americans. Florida's population is comprised of 17 percent Hispanics, or 2.7 million people. Manatee County's Hispanic population grew by 9,000 over 10 years to more than 15,000 in the 2000 census.

"We have a lot to contribute," Matos said.

Patrick Hussey, chairman of the De Soto Springfest, compared the Festival of the Flowers to the popular De Soto Seafood Fest, which draws more than 20,000 visitors to downtown Bradenton every April.

"We're hoping it will be like the Seafood Fest with a Spanish flavor," he said.

Morales and Hussey want to make the Festival de las Flores an annual event.

"It will be a nice day out on the waterfront," Hussey said. "And if there is music playing, people will be out dancing."

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