In the past couple of years, during the first week of December on Southwest 107th Street in Sweetwater, has been the site of a traditional celebration established by the South Florida Nicaraguan community: La Griteria or La Purisima.
Sidewalks are lined with altars and dozens of people come from different areas of Miami to celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Maria, Nicaragua’s patron saint. Miami was the city that sheltered hundreds of Nicaraguans who took refuge in the United States in the 1980s. Throughout the celebration, sweets and gifts are handed out and folkloric music is played along with a slew of dance performances.
But the event comes with a price. Streets must be closed and coordination from the city is required, as well as the employment of several police officers. Maintenance employees must also carry out the set up of stages and provide cleaning services before and after the event, which runs for several hours.
For years, cultural organization Community Performing Arts, which organizes the event, has received administrative assistance from the city of Sweetwater to cover the majority of expenses related to the event. However, this time, city council members billed $8,000 for all required services.
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Now, coordinators and members of Community Performing Arts, a nonprofit organization, protest what they consider to be a “very high price.” In the midst of a financial crisis in Sweetwater, which has left 27 employees without receiving pay for the month of November, and provoking the layoffs of 30 employees, council members assure the city can’t afford to cover the expenses of the event.
“The mayor [Orlando Lopez] can’t in good conscience continue to commit the same errors of the past,” city spokeswoman Claudia Miro said.
“It’s not a secret that the city was wrongly administered and that money was spent incorrectly or wasted on the wrong things for many years, and this [event] was one of those bad choices. In any other place, when these types of events are held, those services are paid for.”
Meanwhile, the cultural organization initiated a crowdfunding campaign on the web at www.gofundme.com/lagriteria2015. As of Tuesday, $150 has been raised, according to the gofundme page. The deadline to make the payment to the city was Wednesday.
Consuelo Espinoza, Community Performing Arts founder, who organized the celebration for years with help from her family, said that the group asked city council members to be flexible and lessen the total invoice, but they refused.
The city charges $6,000 to employ eight police officers for 12 hours. The organization must also pay $2,200 to hire three maintenance workers for 12 hours, garbage clean up and the bags to deposit waste, as well the set up and break down of a stage.
Event organizers stress that the event lasts less than half a day and that they can’t understand why they must pay 12 hours of work to city employees working on the event. Espinoza also said that volunteers will take care of cleaning up garbage in order to reduce costs.
“We’re a nonprofit organization, we don’t have that amount of money. Everything we do in this celebration is free,” Espinoza assured. “We do it to promote our culture and our traditions.”
Miro said the administration tried to offer Community Performing Arts several options. For example, they told them to hold the event in a city park, which would require fewer police officers. But organizers didn’t accept it.
According to Miro, closing 107th Avenue requires hiring several police officers who will guide transit and pick up barricades.
Organizers will also have to pay for several permits which would allow them to put up posters promoting the event, an expense they never had in the past.
Espinoza explained that the organization wants the event to resemble the celebration taking place in Nicaragua: a multi-city street celebration featuring altars set up in businesses and private homes.
“We want this to turn into a tradition on 107th Avenue, which is very meaningful for the Nicaraguan community in Sweetwater,” said Espinoza. “People already relate it with the celebration, they come to build their altars here gratuitously and candies and food are given out to children.”
Traditionally in Sweetwater, altars are also placed in the parking lot of the Holiday Plaza shopping center, on 107th Avenue, by Los Ranchos restaurant.
Miro said the people who organize the plaza celebration will pay for the services of two police officers.
La Griteria is also celebrated in some businesses in Little Havana or Hialeah.
Follow Brenda Medina on Twitter: @BrendaMedinar