Light 'Em Up

Want to get a jump on Christmas partying? Hook up with Dallas-Fort Worth's Colombians and Colombian-Americans, many of whom grew up celebrating Christmas for an entire month. Colombia, a predominantly Roman Catholic nation, begins holiday fiestas December 7 with Dia de las Velitas, a candlelit vigil in honor of the Virgin Mary. Festivities end with the Epiphany on January 6.

Imagine a Christmas celebration like this: A local priest cruising through the neighborhood with a statue of the Virgin Mary and offering blessings. The normally dark street is lit, not from tall municipal lights, but from the flickering light of multiple candles placed in front of every house and from lanterns hanging from every tree. Dallas' Colombian Social and Sports Club is throwing its own Dia de las Velitas party Friday. There won't be any priests cruising around with virgins, but there will be lots of Colombian food, music and dance, not to mention candles.

If Colombian Social and Sports Club sounds like a made-up name, it's only because you've probably never heard of the group before. It only recently formed, out of a concern that local children of Colombian origin don't have enough to tie to their roots as well as enough organized recreational activities. "A lot of us have kids who have never been to Colombia. We're trying to emphasize our culture to them so they don't forget where they come from. And we all got kids and we don't want them growing up in gangs. We want things for them to do," says group spokesman Augustine Suvero. Friday's event is a fundraiser for the club, most of whose resources go to youth sports, particularly soccer teams.

The establishment of the Colombian Social and Sports Club is a sign of Dallas' burgeoning non-Mexican origin Latino population, which grew from 12 percent to 17 percent from 1990 to 2000. Statewide, the non-Mexican proportion of the Latino population, mainly Central and South Americans, more than doubled, from 10.3 percent to 24 percent. Many Colombians are moving to Dallas from other U.S. cities traditionally more populated with South Americans, like Miami and New York, because they have more employment opportunities here, says Suvero, who was born in Colombia but grew up in Miami. "Those other places are saturated," he says. Luis Lara moved straight here from Colombia after visiting multiple other U.S. cities while on assignment for a Colombian newspaper as a sports reporter during the 1994 World Cup. "In those other cities, I saw a lot of the same problems that I'd seen in Bogota. I wanted something more laid-back," Lara says.

Based on attendance of a Colombian Independence Day party the club threw last summer, the Metroplex's Colombian population is well into the thousands, Suvero says.

He adds that his club's mission is also to familiarize the general population with Colombian culture beyond the images splashed regularly across television screens and the front pages of newspapers and magazines. "In high school, when we'd tell people we were from Colombia, they'd say, 'Hey dude, you got any weed?' Colombia is not just drugs and war. We're trying to get people to see another side of us."

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Cheryl Smith

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