KISSIMMEE -- Lady folk dancers in frilly, bright-colored dresses pranced center stage flanked by men in straw hats as hundreds of clapping and jiving spectators enjoyed a taste of Puerto Rican culture Saturday.
Later in the act, some in the audience belted Spanish lyrics to a throaty, nostalgic song about Old San Juan, paying homage to the island's capital city.
The festivities at the Desfile Puertorrique�o de la Florida three-day expo and parade are drawing thousands this weekend to Silver Spurs Arena to experience or share traditions from the island.
The event -- in its third year -- has grown dramatically since its inception to become the largest Puerto Rican-themed cultural event in the state.
The event is organized by a group of volunteers with the nonprofit Cultural Center of Puerto Rico in Kissimmee.
Organizers expect to draw more than 40,000 people during three days.
Florida is home to nearly 900,000 Puerto Ricans, with about one-third of those calling Central Florida home.
During the past two decades, many flocked to the state for better economic opportunities, marking a shift in migration patterns. Puerto Ricans in the States now outnumber those on the island.
Organizers hope the event will help Puerto Ricans pass on their culture to younger generations who grew up in stateside.
"The problem is that when you come to this country you move and you adapt yourself to this American culture, and parents don't teach children," said Ingrid Figueroa, 58, president of the event.
Figueroa, who grew up in Puerto Rico but has called Kissimmee home for 26 years, thinks without exposure to cultural events such as hers, it is difficult for parents to teach traditions.
"Because you don't have the exposure here, it's a little bit harder to teach children two cultures at the same time," she said.
The weekend events kicked off Friday and continued into Saturday with cultural groups such as national folkloric dance group Areyto, whose members traveled from the island at their own expense to perform.
Other performers included hip-hop reggaeton artists, traditional vocalists, fashionistas strutting for a show and "vejigantes": brightly dressed folk-carnival dancers in horned masks.
For some, such as Jessica Lara, a 26-year-old Kissimmee mom, the event offered a chance to snag cultural eats such as "pinchos" -- grilled meat on a stick -- or empanadas, fried, meat-filled pastries.
Lara said she and her husband wait the entire year to buy specialties such as "bacala�to" -- cod drenched in starchy batter and deep-fried.
"You can't find this stuff in other places," she said while she snacked on an "arepa," a corn-based bread patty. "You have to wait for this."
The events will continue at 11 a.m. Sunday with a nearly 2-mile parade at Silver Spurs Arena. The parade will include more than 50 acts, ranging from high-schoolers to renowned Puerto Rican performers such as Los Cantores de San Juan.
Admission is free. Parking is $7.
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