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Carla Collazo, a 16-year-old from Puerto Rico, leads her veiled-fan dance group for Iglesia Casa Del Alfarero, or Potter's House Church, during the Downtown Latino Festival in Bo Diddley Plaza Saturday afternoon.

 

Visitors to Downtown Gainesville this weekend may have been surprised to see a man waving an American flag trotting atop a Paso Fino horse.

This grand entrance started the 17th annual Downtown Latino Festival, which celebrates Hispanic and Latino culture with traditional costumes, artwork, food and music. Hundreds gathered Saturday afternoon in Bo Diddley Square to celebrate. 

The inauguration began with a parade of children hoisting flags walking to the semicircle of grass surrounding the stage. There, the DJ played traditional music of the flag’s country. The inauguration culminated with a man holding an American flag as he guided the horse towards the grass semicircle. 

This ceremony symbolizes all of the countries being united in the United States, said Brunilda Lopez, a former member of the festival committee and current volunteer. 

Lopez, 52, is a second grade teacher at Littlewood Elementary School and said the festival is crucial to preserving Hispanic and Latino culture in the Gainesville area. 

“I feel like our kids need this,” Lopez said. “I’m a teacher and I tell parents: ‘Don’t let your kids lose your traditions or your language. You can’t lose what you really are.’”

As the festival went on, food trucks and restaurants such as Arepa Burger and Mi Apá Latin Cafe served participants. Tents also sprouted around the venue to sell clothing or promote organizations such as Peaceful Paths or Gainesville Girls Rock Camp. 

Oriana Molares, a UF biomedical engineering sophomore, worked at the UF Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) tent. 

Throughout the day, Morales, 20, showed children the science behind a propeller toy the team brought for demonstration. 

“Since we’re the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers its perfect because it also associates kids who want to be involved in STEM later on and brings everyone together,” Molares said.  

David Montoya, a 21-year-old UF computer science senior, attended the event to celebrate his Peruvian heritage. 

Montoya said cultural events like the festival are important because they bring different perspectives to the Gainesville community.

“Because we are a very white community and I think we should be cultured on different communities that are not just Caucasian and from Florida,” Montoya said. “There are different countries in the world that we should pay attention to that are not just the USA.”