Although many people see Puerto Rico as being too “americanized” because of its status of Commonwealth of the United States, the people in the island continue to emphasize loyalty to the culture and folklore that heavily exists in the island. There are hundreds of traditions that define the island of Puerto Rico and one of them is the great amount of festivals that we celebrate throughout the year.
One of the most famous festivals is called the San Sebastián Festival (Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián). San Sebastián (Saint Sebastian) was a Christian who was martyred for his faith at around the year 288. There is a street on the north side of Old San Juan named in his honor and this is where this event takes place. Considered to be one of the biggest celebrations in San Juan, it is held the third week of January. It gets stuffed with crowds, food, alcohol, live music, and arts and crafts exhibited by our local artists. It has been an annual event since 1970, and what started as a community fund-raiser has become the festival to go to. This 4-day event is attended by both locals and tourists. You can compare it with Mardi Gras minus the beads and the breasts! Just imagine, crowds walking on the street dancing, singing, drinking and enjoying this event that is part of Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage.
(SAN SEBASTIAN FESTIVAL-FIESTAS DE LA CALLE SAN SEBASTIAN)
One of the best gifts you could give to yourself when moving to a different country is to keep your traditions and culture alive, especially if you have children that are now being raised in a different place. You add some decorations from back home, hang the flag, paintings, souvenirs you brought back with you. You play the music, cook the traditional food, go online to keep up with the news from your country, etc. There are so many ways to maintain that connection with a country you hold so close to your heart, the one you first saw when welcomed into this world. As a way to remember your hometown, you also attend local events that represent that place, its traditions and customs. One example of a cultural representation away from home is the San Sebastian Festival IN MIAMI!
I heard about this last year while I was attending the festival in Old San Juan. At first I thought it was a joke. How can you possibly try to imitate such a big event in a little street in Miami? I found out a good friend of mine, actor Julian Gil, was organizing it and being that I was in Florida at the time, this year I decided to attend with my mother.
(My Mom, Julian Gil and myself)
(San Sebastian Festival in Miami)
I was very proud of this representation. They managed to close a busy street in the area of Brikell and turn it into a block party dedicated to one of our dearest traditions back home in Puerto Rico. I loved seeing people from different cultural backgrounds come to the event and learn a little bit more about this tradition. There were Rum and Coquito (our version of Eggnog) tastings, Puerto Rican fritters which represent our diet and even a pig roasting.
When talking to Julian Gil he mentioned how the plan is to add more streets to this block party in Brikell in honor of the original San Sebastian Festival in Puerto Rico. It promises to be a new cultural event in South Florida.
(This banner placed at the event in Miami simulates what the San Sebastian Street in Old San Juan, PR, looks like during the festival.)
In Miami you get more of the Latin flavor being that it has become the new home for people coming from Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Cuba, Puerto Rico, etc. Many of us have left our countries for different reasons. The important thing is to be able to keep your values, your history, your roots alive. It is part of who we were, who we are and who we will be. It is what we pass to our children in the future, what we teach others who come along the way. I encourage to be open minded and learn more about other cultures. In times where there is still so much ignorance and racism, these type of events are important. You learn about others and at the end you realize there is always something you can relate to. After all… who doesn’t enjoy some good music, food and dancing!