Between the weather, the music and the dancing the Taste of Puerto Rico festival brought the heat this year. June 11 marked the 12th anniversary of the celebration that draws more people every year. According to festival organizer, Alvin Velazquez, over 10,000 people came out to the Civic Center to celebrate Puerto Rican pride and culture.
If you went for the entertainment, the festival provided live music that had attendees dancing and singing along. If you went for the food, a lot of time was spent standing in line only to discover the promised Puerto Rican cuisine fell short of expectations.
“We’ve been waiting for an hour and 10 minutes,” Maria Diaz said. Twelve people still stood between her and the person taking orders.
Her friend Alejandra Ruiz had just spent an hour waiting for a pina colada. Ruiz said she knows long lines happen everywhere but felt the festival needed more food and water vendors. Festival coordinator Velazquez said they took a different approach providing food this year because of problems from the previous year.
“After the event I realized all the food vendors didn’t have licenses,” Velazquez said, “Many of them didn’t have lots of experience at festivals and they created damage to the property. I ended up spending a lot of money to get it cleaned up.”
This year he decided to bring in food trucks. He felt they were more professional. However, only one of the food trucks offered Puerto Rican food.
“I am getting heat on that,” Velazquez said, “I am working on bringing back more Puerto Rican food next year.”
Besides complaints about the food, Velazquez said he got a lot of good feedback about everything else.
“It’s a very exciting event. Some are saying it’s not about the food. It’s about the people, the lives, the colors,” Velazquez said.
For Jose Maldonado the festival was about community and bringing people together. Maldonado is a member of the group Barrio E. His wife, Tamil Maldonado, founded the nonprofit organization that performed on Sunday.
“She’s originally from Puerto Rico,” Maldonado said. “We moved here to Colorado over five years ago.”
Maldonado said his wife saw a need for representation of Latin American music and culture. This was their fifth year performing at the Taste of Puerto Rico festival.
“We brought our bomba, which is the traditional musical genre that we were performing,” Maldonado said, “we brought it to the people’s level so that they could interact with it. They could sing, play and dance. It was incredibly energetic. I give a lot of props to Tamil for pulling that kind of crowd.”
Maldonado said the crowd this year was much bigger than last year. He also noticed a shortage of food, especially Puerto Rican food.
“There’s not a lot of Puerto Rican vendors in Colorado. It’s really hard to bring people to the festival that offer that kind of cuisine,” he said.
Spicy Catering Mexican Food made its twelfth appearance at the festival this year. The owner’s son, Ray Lopez, said they don’t specialize in Puerto Rican food but made up a menu of shrimp shish kabobs, red beans and rice for the event.
“Today was unexpected. We ran out of food and had to get more,” Lopez said, “Every year it gets bigger. The population of Puerto Ricans in Denver is growing.”
The dance contest brought out Puerto Ricans and anyone else with rhythm. The dancers impressed the crowd with salsa, merengue and cha-cha. After three rounds, the crowd voted for their favorites by making as much noise as possible. The victors, Musa Starseed and Fernanda Bertoldi, met each other only seconds before they wowed the crowd with their moves.
“This event is so important for the community because it gives everyone a chance to experience the power of culture,” Starseed said, “and how it can connect people and how it can heal communities just through food, music and dancing.” Starseed, who even managed to throw in some breakin moves during the contest, said he loves every style of dance.
“Each style is like a different language and I like to learn all the different languages,” he said.
This was his dance partner’s first time in downtown Denver. Bertoldi was looking for a place to eat when she saw the festival.
“I’m a flight attendant who is based in Miami. That Sunday I was actually on a layover,” Bertoldi said. “I jumped in and danced a little freestyle. Musa, I guess he was watching me earlier, invited me to dance for the contest.”
Bertoldi said the festival impressed her.
“It’s to keep culture alive and I’m all about that,” Bertoldi said. “I’m so grateful I got to experience that.”
The event left Bertoldi wanting to come back to Colorado soon.
“I was not a local and I didn’t know what was going on but I just embraced the moment,” she said.