Colombia's Independence Day is July 20th, but they celebrate the entire month.

Colombian artist Camilo Villamizar’s sculptural depiction of a tropical town near Cartagena looked like a pop-up children’s book. Andres Felipe De La Espriella, 6, and his two-year-old brother Daniel were compelled to touch it. Daniel said the colors made him want to dance, so he started to move his arms, shake his hips and slide his feet. “Que viva Colombia (long live Colombia),” Andres said.

A security guard at the Colombian Consulate in Coral Gables — where about a dozen of Villamizar’s pieces were part of the “My Magic Realism” exhibit this month — rushed to tell Andres that he was not allowed “to touch the paintings.” But as soon as the guard turned around, Andres’ little fingers were exploring a neon green lizard in the “Nocturnal Aracateño” valued at $6,000.

“I grew up in the towns that Gabriel Garcia Marquez describes in his books. Those are my roots and they are my inspiration,” Villamizar, 66, who lives in Kendall, said. “I love nature, so I use roots from plants, gemstones, clay, glass, and of course wood.”

Villamizar left his native Cartagena in 1964, studied at the University of North Dakota and the University of Iowa and has exhibited his work around the world in countries like Holland, Sweden and France. His dynamic exhibit is one of the many special events in Miami-Dade marking Colombia’s Independence Day — July 20, 1810 – when riots in Bogotá lead to Colombia’s independence from Spain.

The events celebrating the day this month are as diverse as Colombians are. They vary from the rowdy nightclub parties in Brickell and dance festivals catering to the teenagers and 20-somethings, to the original happy hour specials at local restaurants that target professionals.

For those who like fanfare, there is the annual live music festival at Tamiami Park, 10901 SW 24th St., this weekend. The event — promoted as the IndepenDance Music Festival — features about a dozen musical acts. The classic icons of “vallenato” and “cumbia” performed on Saturday. Today is for those who like to booty shake to reggaeton. The $70 VIP ticket includes a bottle of “aguardiente” and a pair of “I Love Colombia” sunglasses.

Last year there were about 40,000 party animals, dozens of DJs playing house music, and three stages with laser lights. There was fast food galore, which included the grilled “pinchos,” chunks of beef and chicken held by a think wooden stick. Festival organizers are expecting thousands this weekend.

Colombians are the second largest minority in Miami-Dade said Consul General of Colombia in Miami Maria Jaramillo. Immigration status issues make facts on the population murky, but officials estimate there are about 450,000 Colombians currently reside in Florida. The Pew Research Center’s analysis of Census data released in June estimated 972,000 Colombians resided in the U. S. in 2010, the majority had arrived in the 1990s, and less than half were U.S. citizens.

“I miss my country, but I couldn’t find work in my field, so I figured if I am going to do something unrelated might as well be for good money, so I moved here,” Glendy Ruiz, 23, said. “It’s a time to celebrate where we come from, so we dance, we drink, we eat, and we dance some more.” She said she started celebrating July 14th at a Latin club near the Doral called La Covacha, 10730 NW 25th Ave.

Restaurants from downtown to Hialeah are on high demand for the “bandeja paisa,” a tray with beans, white rice, beef, pork, a fried egg, plantain, avocado and an “arepa,” a corn patty. And those who specialize on Colombian fast food serve hot dogs with pineapple, potato chips and other sauces.

“Colombian fast food is much tastier than American. You get the chorizo, the tasty pink sauce and corn with cheese,” said Jose Velazques, 42, while at Los Perros in Miami Beach. “It’s sad to sit here by yourself. I miss my family and my mom’s busy kitchen … this food comforts me.”

The “Restaurante Monserrate,” which has branches near Coral Gables and the Doral, has been curing nostalgia since 1974. Abdel Morales, manager of the restaurant on Coral Way and 20th Avenue, said he is very proud of the bar.

“During the week, from 4 to 8 p.m., we will be serving Colombian beer and aguardiente (an anise-flavoured liqueur derived from sugarcane) for $3,” said Morales. “We also have our specialties, the Guaromartini for $6 and the Colombian mojito for $6.50. Our full service bar is intimate and cozy.”

Jaramillo said she wants Colombians to feel like the consulate is their second home, so she likes to open the doors of the two story house, 280 Aragon Avenue, with Spanish colonial architectural influences to local artists, musicians and authors.

In the second floor this month, there is a photography exhibit by journalist José Satizabal, who has been one of the few to have solo exhibits in the presidential palace, la Casa de Nariño, in Bogotá.

“Graffiti always disappears, so my work is like a memory of artistic expression” Satizabal, 64, said. His work was modern and eye-catching. He left Colombia five years ago, and now that he lives in North Miami, he enjoys photographing graffiti.


The consulate will also be hosting a family event to promote good health at 10 a.m., July 28th, titled “Salud Es Vida,” Health Is Life. The event’s planner invited dance choreographer Alberto “Beto” Perez, who designed the famous Zumba fitness program. There will also be a free yoga lesson and Chef Sabrina Yanguas will demonstrate juicing and healthy snacking.

“Some may need a little detoxification after all of the parties. We will be doing some juicing with fruits and vegetables,” Yanguas, 22, said. “Our event is the perfect way to end the month.”


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