Nicaraguans in Sweetwater preparing to celebrate the recent religious holiday known as La G riteria were met with a surprise.
The owners of a shopping center that has traditionally allowed revelers to set up altars honoring the patroness of the Central American country didn’t permit the festivities this year.
For the last few years, members of the Nicaraguan community celebrating la griteria- which translates roughly to “the yelling” — would set up more than 10 altars displayed on the back of their cars at the West Flagler Plaza Shopping Center’s parking lot at 10720 W. Flagler on Dec. 7. , which includes a Sedano’s Supermarket, beauty school and video shop.
The loosely organized gathering had been taking place for several years.
But this year, mall owners contacted the city because businesses in the shopping center were worried about the celebration, said Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño.
“Business owners have expressed their concerns,” he said in a phone interview, noting that the city had not enforced the permit requirement in previous years. . “The parking lots are full from 7 o’clock till after
midnight taking over the parking lot with different altars. They want to respect, but we need to respect the business owners because they
want to conduct business.”
The owners, listed only on property records as West Flagler Plaza Corp., did not respond to several requests for comment, including faxed questions, phone calls and a visit from a reporter to the center’s office.
La Griteria is boisterous celebration where religious followers pray and sing traditional songs in front of an altar with an image of Virgin Mary. They walk from altar to altar. The altar could be placed anywhere from a corner of a family house to
a big stage. The tradition started Dec. 7, 1857, in Leon, Nicaragua, when a priest wanted to bring joy to his country after it had endured
a national war.
Over the years, Maroño said he has seen the celebration increase in Sweetwater, which has a sizeable Nicaraguan community. It regularly attracts close to a thousand visitors to the city, he said.
“We have people running wild on the street. It can create a problem for them and for their safety,” he said.
The city allowed a small celebration in the shopping plaza’s parking lot the next day, featuring only one altar and small stage.
However, those in the community were upset about the changes made this year. Deborah Centeno, who owns La Chipiona Nicaraguan Bakery in Sweetwater and is running for city commission, said the celebration has been taking place for over 30 years in various locations in Sweetwater.
“In 34 years, the city has never asked for a permit,” she said. “We haven’t seen or heard of a numerical statistic that indicates that this celebration contributes to the increase of crime of Sweetwater. We haven’t heard of anyone get hurt. The owners have all the right to celebrate the virgin.”
There were other celebrations taking place nearby across the street at the Holiday Plaza at 17 SW 107th Ave., Laguna Plaza at 10735 W. Flagler, and other places around the county such as Hialeah and Little Havana.
At Holiday Plaza, organizers were also told on Dec. 7 to get a permit.
When one of the organizers went to City Hall to file the paperwork, the when she told administrators she couldn’t afford the $100 permit, the city waived the requirement, said spokeswoman Michelle Hammontree-Garcia.