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Caribbean Cruisin'

Viva los sights, sounds, and tastes of Puerto Rico in a decades-old downtown tradition.

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Downtown Cleveland morphs into an island fiesta of spicy treats, salsa beats, and pageant queens for this weekend's Puerto Rican Parade & Latino Fest. And organizer Daisy Diaz of the Julia de Burgos Cultural Arts Center insists you don't have to come from south of the border to get your cucaracha on. "It's all about listening to the music, sampling the different foods, and running into old friends," she says. "It gives us an opportunity to showcase some of our cultural traditions with everyone else."Now in its 40th year, the fest peaks on Sunday with a 1 p.m. parade of ethnic dance troupes, safety personnel, and religious groups, all waving the Puerto Rican flag. Convertibles filled with pageant royalty will bring up the rear of the procession, before spectators retreat to a carnival of rides, crafts, and food such as fried plantains, barbecued pig, and other savories-on-a-stick. On the Kids Stage, the youth group Project Coqui will act out island legends like the one about the bone-chilling chupacabra, which is a lizard-like creature that's rumored to attack and drink the blood of livestock. And the streets will turn into dance floors as Latino bands play salsa all weekend long. "Our festival is all about family. And being located in downtown Cleveland allows all residents from the city and surrounding suburbs to discover our culture," says Diaz. "We invite everyone who loves dancing, food, and learning about other traditions to join us." Olé! The fest runs from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. today through Sunday at the Cleveland Municipal Parking Lot, 1501 South Marginal Road. Admission is free. Call 216-961-2970 or visit www.juliadeburgos.org.
July 18-20, 9 a.m.-10 p.m., 2008

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