MANATEE -- The crowd of about 500 people listened to the vibrant beat of the bands, danced on the broad shiny floor, and enjoyed the variety of foods being served Friday at the 14th annual Multicultural Festival.
The festival is held each year at Manatee Technical Institute to highlight the diversity of cultures in Manatee County, and to inform the community about the Farmworker Education and Service Program at the school, said Esperanza Gamboa, coordinator of the program.
"There are so many students from so many different countries," Gamboa said. "We wanted to give the community a chance to learn about them."
Manatee County School Board member David Miner stopped by to congratulate MTI on the successful event.
"It's wonderful," Miner said when asked what he thought about the festival. "It brings people together from all over our county on a nice night."
This year was the first time the event was held at the new MTI campus on State Road 70 in east Manatee County.
All the previous years the popular festival was held at the campus off 34th Street West.
But the change in venue did not keep Julio Gerbi and Monica Chavez away.
"We've came the other years, but this is better," said Gerbi, who took the machinist course at the old MTI campus. "It's inside this beautiful new building."
Chavez said the festival is very important for the Hispanic community.
"Cinco de Mayo (which is Sunday) represents our cultural identity," she said, "but the festival highlights all the Hispanic cultures."
Another first for the festival was the fashion show
that Purabell House of Fashion produced.
Melvina Aguilar, daughter of the fashion designer and owner of Purabell, Maria Aguilar, said their business on Lena Road has been working with Gamboa and the school's fashion design program for many years.
"This year we wanted to be part of the Multicultural Festival," Melvina Aguilar said. "We wanted to show that fashion can be glamorous."
Many of the models at Friday's fashion show are MTI students and clients from the Farmworkers Education Program.
The festival has a special meaning for Mariela Gutierrez. She was in the Farmworkers Education Program in 2005.
"My mom was a farmworker and I was a teen mom," she said. "They helped me go to school and gave me a lot of support.
"And Esperanza -- whatever I needed, she would try to help," Gutierrez said.
Gamboa said this year's festival was special because MTI will be celebrating it's 50th anniversary and the farmworker program, having started in 1968, is almost as old.
The program helps those employed in the agricultural sector with learning English, training for new job skills and obtaining a high school diploma.