written by Boricua.com contributor Sarah Gomez

Walking through the Metropolitan Park during the World of Nations celebration 2019 in Jacksonville, FL, held from February 22 to 24, was such an exhilarating experience! Each country represented during the large multicultural festival had its flag on display, at least one person speaking that country’s official language and serving food native to that country.

The celebration showcases the diverse immigrant and international communities of Jacksonville and the northeast Florida area. As we visited the Puerto Rican booth we were greeted by “Teté”, a leather artisan born in Cayey, PR who lives in Central Florida. “Teté” told us that his specialty is making horse saddles and , but he also exhibits and sells bags, key holders, wallets, belts, chairs, motorcycle gear and framed leather art. His company is called Arte Gitana Mia and his website is www.artegitanamia.com . “Teté” believes in hard work and is very meticulous with his art. As a matter of fact, he never stopped working on a hat that he was making while talking to us.

We spoke to Ramón Miranda Méndez and his wife Ana whose specialty is woodwork. The Puerto Rican artisans exhibited plaques and figures of the Three Kings, the Taínos, colorful toys and jewelry. Miranda explained how each woodworker has his or her own style and that there are certain woods that are not worth painting because they are already rich in color. He also spoke about the Puerto Rican flag and how the original color mentioned in the Puerto Rican constitution describes the blue color in the flag as “celestial” and not deep dark blue that was used after 1952. Talking to Miranda, a retired pastor from Puerto Rico, was a learning experience because he knows a lot about Puerto Rican history!

Obed Gómez, a fine artist from Puerto Rico who lives in Central Florida was exhibiting his colorful images of conga players, dancers, the Three Kings, Don Quijote, Roosters, images of Mother and child and the Paso Fino horse. , as well as the other artists talk about their homeland, Puerto Rico, with love, nostalgia, and pride which is reflected in their artwork. Gómez is a freelance artist for publishers, has worked art instructor and graphic designer in the past. He enjoys exhibiting his work at cultural events and in his free time he enjoys interacting with fellow Puerto Ricans who appreciate his work. They give him their input and also share their past experiences. His art can be viewed at his website : www.obedtheartist.com .

We met José A Becerril Osorio, an artist from Puerto Rico who lives in San Juan, PR. José is a self-taught artist who has been painting for 10 years. José enjoys the World of Nations Celebration because it gives him a chance to interact with Boricuas who live outside of Puerto Rico, “they appreciate that the art was made in Puerto Rico. I say hi and let them enjoy the art, I enjoy looking at their expressions as they look at the images. It’s as if the are communicating with each piece of art!” At one point José A Becerril Osorio painted for several hours on his knees and produced several original pieces of art for everyone to view.

Talking with Hector and Lizbeth from Monte Adentro Foods was also a great experience. The couple created their own brand several years ago. Lizbeth was a realtor and Hector was a sales man for a food distributing company. They were struggling financially and Lizbeth had been brainstorming ideas on how to make extra income. One day Lizbeth called her Mom in Puerto Rico and asked her about her home made hot sauces and pique or hot sauces. Her Mom was excited about her daughter’s sudden interest and shared her recipes which have resulted in a business venture for the couple. Monte Adentro Foods can be found in grocery stores in Central Florida and at Walmart Stores. Monte Adentro also offers typical Puerto Rican and Caribbean candies like “dulce de coco”, “Mampostiales and Dulce de Ajonjolí”.

As we continued walking around we saw school students of all ages with their teachers. They came from different schools in Jacksonville, FL. The students took dance lessons at the Dominican Republic booth, got their faces painted at the US Virgin Island booth, interacted with Native American Indians from Canada, drank coconut water from coconuts that were cut open for them at the Jamaican booth and they fell in love with the “Bacalaitos” and “alcapurrias” from the Puerto Rican booth. They asked questions to the Puerto Rican artists and artisans who were delighted to explain the history behind each handmade piece. World of Nations 2019 was a very colorful, educational and fun experience, it gave residents of Jacksonville a chance to interact with their neighbors from other countries, taste their food, appreciate their arts and crafts and enjoy their culture.