Festival celebrates culture, healthy living

ROCHESTER — Families will benefit from an improved children’s area at next month’s Puerto Rican Festival.

Thanks to a partnership with the Greater Rochester Health Foundation, the festival will offer additional activities and information for families as part of the foundation’s "Healthy Hero" campaign, said Orlando Ortiz, festival board president.

"We are really trying to enhance that area and bring out a healthy lifestyle for the kids," he remarked.

Helping children learn to make healthy choices fits in well with the theme of the festival — "Remembering the Past, Building in the Future," Ortiz said. Now in its 43rd year, the three-day event at Frontier Field’s VIP parking lot beginning July 20 is one of the longest-running ethnic festivals in the area, organizers said.

"The Puerto Rican Festival is a wonderful celebration of the richness and vibrancy of Puerto Rican culture, which is rooted in the family," Bonnie C. DeVinney, the health foundation’s vice president and chief program officer, stated in an e-mail. "(The) foundation sees this partnership as a way to celebrate and promote the health of the children with our ‘Be A Healthy Hero 5·2·1·0 message’."

That message encourages eating five servings of fruits and vegetables, two hours of screen time, one hour of active play and no beverages sweetened with sugar, according to www.beahealthyhero.org/About5210/tabid/91/Default.aspx. The festival also will continue to offer a domino tournament, a health fair, a community agencies fair and zumba demonstrations, Ortiz said.

The Puerto Rican Parade, which will take place on the second day of the festival following the Javier Ortiz Memorial 5K race, also is trying to expand its reach through its theme "We are One/Somos Uno," said Geena Cruz, parade committee president.

Cruz said that the parade committee is opening up the parade to the entire Latino community and hopes that every Latin American country will be represented with a float, she said. In previous years, the participants were asked to represent the different towns and cities of Puerto Rico.

"Most of all we want to show unity among one another," she remarked. "We are truly honored to show our community that ‘We Are One/Somos Uno’ and invite all to show support and participate."

The festival organizers also hope that the community heeds the positive message that they have been trying to emphasize the last several years, Ortiz said. They also continue to work with city officials and the Rochester Police Department to prevent the property damage or loitering that has followed in city neighborhoods after the event wraps up, he said.

"We understand it’s a process and it may take a few years for things to calm down," Ortiz remarked. "But we are continuing our partnership and strategizing."

The festival will again end early on the final day at 7:30 p.m. as opposed to 10 p.m. in past years, he added.

Mario Hernández will be part of the closing performances as part of the festival’s theme to honor the past, Ortiz said. At nearly 90 years old, the Puerto Rican cuatro player continues to entertain by performing traditional "jibaro" music to salsa, he said.

"Música típica is a very influential and long-standing tradition to this day," Ortiz remarked. "We’re glad to have him."

The other musical headliners were selected to offer something to please both older and younger generations, Ortiz noted, including Elvis Crespo, Luis Enrique and Our Latin Thing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information about the 43rd-annual Puerto Rican Festival and how to participate in the Puerto Rican Parade, visit www.prfestival.com/index.html.

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