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NY Festival of the Americas Brings Diverse Community Together

Summertime in New York is well-known for its street fairs, which give tourists and diehard New Yorkers the chance to mingle, dance, shop and sample a variety of delicious ethnic foods. One of the most popular fairs is the annual Festival of the Americas near Times Square.

During the normal workweek, New York's Sixth Avenue is filled with scurrying crowds and heavy traffic dwarfed by giant office towers. But on a recent Sunday, the boulevard is host to the annual Festival of the Americas. No cars or buses are allowed, and thousands of New Yorkers and visitors are giving themselves over to the joy of Central, South and local American cultures in their many forms. For Pamela, 23, that means moving rhythmically to the mountain music of her native land.

"I'm from Ecuador, and I am proud of people coming here from Ecuador," she said. "It's nice to see people from my country here and the music I love the music here, and the instruments they use. I enjoy it a lot."

She also said she enjoys the dancing at the festival. "That's part of the latin culture."

Not everyone who comes to the festival is from South America, of course. Heddy Fox has lived on the same block in the Bronx for 62 years. "The festival is fabulous because it brings out people, it allows people to communicate with others directly," he said. "It is very energizing. All the vendors are from all over the world, which I find fascinating. And you see all the different colors. It's such a hot day. People are dressed very casually, and it's nice for people who are in love to come and just stroll through. And hopefully they'll spend a few dollars with these hardworking vendors so they can make a living. It takes a lot to pay the rent. And they have booths for food and they have booths for clothing. And they have shorts and they have telephones! It's a fantastic, huge market. It's fabulous."

A child named Solomon, 12, sells lemonade and grilled meat with his father and his sister. "It's fun. I like it. I meet different people," said Solomon's sister. "I love New York! I came from Russia. So New York is wonderful. It's very wonderful. Very good living!"

A man named Will, just one soldier in a small army of festival street cleaners, has been eyeing the sticky wrappers those children are holding. He leans on his push broom and offers his perspective on this event. "Crowded, very crowded, very dirty, very loud but a lot of fun," he said.

A police officer and several hundred of his fellow cops have been assigned to monitor the scene and keep the peace. He seems pleased. "It's been real quiet," he said. "Everybody is having a good time. No incident so far. Keep your fingers crossed. Eat! Drink! Legally!"

There is nothing illegal about the homemade baked goods that have one woman in her twenties standing in line for the third time. "The carrot cake is incredible," she said. "It's got just the right touch of cream cheese and sugar. Awesome! All the stuff around here is really cool, too. The art, the jewelry, the hat that I just bought."

A New Yorker named Doug is people-watching with intense focus and not just a little "attitude." He is trying to sell subscriptions to a tabloid newspaper called the New York Post without much luck.

"Honestly, The Post is a great paper, but when it comes to a place like Sixth Avenue and 42nd Street, it's all tourists, and it's a pain in the butt. I need New Yorkers, true New Yorkers," he said. He has a formula for telling who is from New York. "Anyone not wearing a brightly colored shirt. Because no New Yorker would ever be caught dead wearing anything like that!"

Stereotypes are made to be broken. The colors on one 70-year-old native New Yorker are bright enough to make even a toucan seem bland.

"It's got me dancing! This music brings me WAY back. Oh, good times. Good memories. I love it. I shop 'til I drop. They've got everything here. Bargain city. It's good!", he said.