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Lorain International Festival – ‘a tradition attracting thousands’

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

LORAIN: Thousands of people witnessed folkloric dances and sampled food from all over the world at the 43rd Annual Lorain International Festival and Bazaar, June 26-28, 2009.

Roughly 80,000 attended the three-day weekend festivities near Lake Erie, according to organizers. Eighteen International Princesses of nine different nationalities welcomed the crowd, and some performed folkloric dances during the warm and sunny weekend.

From left: 1st Runner-up African American Princess Mariah Sledge, 2009 Lorain International Queen Ciara Gomez and 2nd Runner-up German Princess Brianna Lindway. Missing from this photo is 3rd Runner-up Hungarian Princess Amanda Buchs

The festival celebrates the numerous ethnicities present in Lorain, often called the “International City.”

Thom Urbanek, International Breakfast Chair, said the festival provides excellent benefits to the community by showcasing the different ethnicities or nationalities.

“Sometimes we have our opinions of what a nationality is or is not. When we get together we discover what are their foods, their thoughts, their goals. It gives us a broader perspective of what we are all about and it brings down the barriers,” he said. “It’s positive for everyone,” he said.

Richard Romero, of the Puerto Rican Cultural Committee, said the festival provides a unique opportunity.

“It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized diversity is so important,” Romero said “There is no other city in the state that has a festival that has so much food, and [folkloric] costumes. No other where you can see all that without having to get on a plane,” he said.

Several visitors said the food is what they most appreciate about the festival, and many said the festival has been tradition for decades.

“I enjoy the food, the parades, the princesses and their pretty attire,” Sylvia Billings, of Lorain said, as she sat watching the Sunday Parade with her 6-year-old and 9-year-old sons. “I like the bands and the Armed Forces. I like seeing people participating in Lorain,” she said.

Two local high school bands, local festival royalty, city council members, firefighters, and several different ethnic floats were in the parade. The food booths included: Chinese, Polish, Greek, Italian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Vietnamese, Croatian, y más. There were boat tours to the islands off Lake Erie and to the lighthouse.

Easter Seals, an organization that helps individuals with disabilities, was this year’s spotlighted industry.

Mexican Princess Telisa Soto (in purple) performs with another girl (in green) a folkloric Mexican dance.


The Crown

The Puerto Rican community – this year’s spotlighted nationality – received an added recognition when Puerto Rican Princess Ciara Gómez was crowned queen this year.

Gómez, 17, is the fourth Puerto Rican princess to be crown queen. But her success marks the first time in the pageant’s history that a Puerto Rican princess is crowned queen the same year the Puerto Rican community is also spotlighted. And only the second time that has happened—the first time a princess from the same spotlighted nationality took the crown was in 1994 with German Queen Debbie Prinz.

Gómez’s court included: 1st Runner-Up African-American Princess Mariah Sledge, 18; 2nd Runner-Up German Princess Brianna Lindway, 18; and 3rd Runner-up Hungarian Princess Amanda Buchs, 17.

Backstage, the night of the pageant, June 25, International Association President Terri Soto gave Gómez a necklace and embraced her as they both cried.

“I’m still in shock. I’m shaking and everything,” Gómez said backstage.

It was her first time competing in the pageant.

“Watching all these princesses over the years and I knew I wanted to be one,” Gómez said, “Even if I didn’t make court, I wanted to at least be a princess.”

Gómez said winning the competition will give her an opportunity to be a role model, and said she’s proud of her culture for “how close we are with our family and how involved we are in church.”

She has been actively involved with her family in the Sacred Heart Chapel that sponsored her. She plans to attend Wright State University for physical therapy after she graduates from high school in 2010.

Gómez, along with International Puerto Rican princesses Melina Rosas and Cynthia Y. Torres, wore folkloric Puerto Rican white dresses and danced a “bomba” piece to Ricky Martin’s “Pégate,” multiple times throughout the weekend.

Other Puerto Rican Princesses this year included: Samaira Collazo, Carmen Molina, and Mayrin Rosario.

2008 Lorain International Festival Queen Natalie Rodriquez, representing Mexico, and the 2009 Lorain International Festival Queen Ciara Gomez, representing Puerto Rico, backstage at the pageant

One Mexican Princess participated this year: Telisa Soto. Wearing traditional Mexican dresses, Soto and two other girls performed a Mexican folkloric dance at the pageant and the bazaar.

Manuel Rodríguez, 48, of Lorain said he’s been attending the festival as a tradition for many years. He said he was very proud a Puerto Rican princess took the crown this year.

Melissa Santiago, 23, of Lorain, said the festival is also a tradition to her.

“I love the fact that Lorain is such a diverse community,” Santiago said “I’ve lived here all my life and I wouldn’t live anywhere else,” she said.


Sammy DeLeon Y Su Orchestra play Salsa music at the International Festival


The "Deputies" cheerleaders, ranging from three to 18 years old, twirled their batons as they marched in the International Festival Parade Sunday, June 28

Women wearing the traditional Scottish clothing march in International Festival Parade



A float displaying the Puerto Rican culture


Members of Raices Latinas and 2009 Lorain International Queen Ciara Gomez, Puerto Rican Princess Cynthia Y. Torres, and Puerto Rican Princess Melina Rosas.

2009 Puerto Rican princesses and Raices Latinas Performing.

From Left is Puerto Rican Princess Melina Rosas, 2009 International Festival Queen Ciara Gomez, and Puerto Rican Princess Cynthia Y. Torres.


Volunteers from Lorain's El Centro dressed up as Vejigantes for the Elegant Evening of culture as well as other International festival events.






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