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February 25, 2014

Sample Dominican culture at celebration

LAWRENCE — This year’s Dominican Independence Day celebration in the city is all about the children.

The Lawrence YMCA has teamed up with Casa Dominicana, a Dominican cultural center, to offer a sampling of music, dance, food and arts as local Dominicans celebrate the 170th anniversary of their Independence from Haiti on Feb. 27, 1844.

“We wanted to take the opportunity to create a space and bring everyone together for a great event where we can learn about Dominican culture,” said Jennifer Mejia, marketing manager for the Merrimack Valley YMCA.

Mejia was raised in Lawrence of Dominican parents, and it wasn’t until her teenage years that she gained a better appreciation for her parents’ culture. She traveled to the island as a student at Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, where they did community service projects. She wrote her senior thesis on the life changing trip.

“It opened my eyes to the country in a different way,” she said.

Then she participated in a quinceanera, a coming of age party celebrated for Hispanic girls when they turn 15. The party’s choreographer was also involved in the Dominican parade.

“Once you learn more about the culture, you become more intrigued and proud,” she said.

Jose Ayala of Casa Dominicana is glad they are partnering with YMCA.

“Our goal is to reach the children and their families. We need those children, who in a few years, will be adults to say, ‘Let’s celebrate our independence in honor of our parents and our roots,’” Ayala said.

Stelvyn Mirabal and his family have been keeping Dominican traditions alive for more than four decades.

Mirabal, along with his three children, other family members and friends, have marched throughout New England, New York and New Jersey dressed as “Diablo Cojuelos” Spanish for “Limping Devils.”

Mirabal has a collection of 82 costumes, 20 of which will be on display at Lawrence Public Library, 51 Lawrence St., now through the end of February. His group is called, Asociacion Carnavalesca de Massachusetts.

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