VINELAND - The annual Puerto Rican Festival, the city's largest and longest ethnic celebration, begins Saturday.

The festival opens with a banquet at Mori's restaurant and ends July 28 with its biggest event, the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

In between, the 46th annual festival features food, music and folklore at Landis Park and flag-raising ceremonies here and in Millville and Bridgeton. There are also special days dedicated to women, youths and senior citizens.

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Festival organizers said the event attracts people from across the United States, Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries. Festival spokesman Leonides Negron said the festival is also attracting a growing number of non-Hispanics who want to learn more about Puerto Rican culture and traditions.

"This is good for all families," Negron said. "We don't care what language you speak. This is about unity."

Puerto Ricans have a long history in this city.

According to festival officials, Puerto Ricans began arriving here in the 1940s. The first Puerto Rican to move to the city was a peasant family that first migrated from Puerto Rico to New York City.

According to U.S. Census figures, 38 percent of the city's nearly 61,000 residents are Hispanic. About 70 percent of that Hispanic population is Puerto Rican.

Ruben Bermudez became the first Puerto Rican to become mayor when he was elected to the post in December.

Bermudez's family comes from Utuado in Puerto Rico. Utuado is the home of many families that eventually move here.

Contact Thomas Barlas:


Puerto Rican Festival

WHAT: 46th Annual Puerto Rican Festival.

WHERE: Vineland.

WHEN: Saturday through July 28.

WHAT TO EXPECT: There are a variety of events throughout the week, including Puerto Rican flag-raisings in Vineland, Millville and Bridgeton. There is entertainment, food and other activities at Landis Park beginning at 3 p.m. from Monday through July 28. The highlight of the festival is the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade beginning at Landis Avenue and Delsea Drive at 1 p.m. July 28.

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