Calle Ocho festival sets another world record

The 35th edition of Little Havana’s signature street festival set another world record Sunday amid throngs of festival-goers.

Calle Ocho festival-goers set a Guinness World Record for assembling the largest image created by flags. Participants held 422 flags from countries from around the world Sunday, March 11, 2012. Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald

The Calle Ocho Street Festival, the largest celebration of its kind in the United States, broke its fifth Guinness world record Sunday with a multicolor flag of 250 feet long and 36 feet wide composed of 422 flags from around the world.

More than 100 volunteers carried the flag, folded in the form of a number 1, as a symbol of unity during the Miami festival. Later, they lifted it high for 276 seconds to represent what they said was the number of countries on Earth.

Representatives from Guinness World Records who came to Miami to witness the occasion certified that it was the largest-ever image created by flags, said Lino Fernández, former president of the Kiwanis Club of Little Havana, which hosts the event.

It was an extraordinary recognition to celebrate the 35th edition of the festival, a Miami tradition that started as an effort by a group of Cuban young adults to make their culture known to the wider American society.

The flag, called “One World” and sewn two weeks ago, was displayed at 2:15 p.m. on Southwest Eighth Street between 24th and 25th avenues. To lift it, 63 poles 10 feet high were used for its perimeter and 25 inside to support it.

“The logistics were very complicated,” said Fernández. “It’s a very heavy flag. You have to take into account the wind and the river of people walking on Calle Ocho.”

Carlos Othon, an engineer from Hallandale Beach, was amazed to see the display.

“The collage tells us that we are one people in the world and that geographic divisions were invented by men and don’t really exist,” said Othon, 64. “We are all inhabitants of a single country: the planet.”

With a lot of food, entertainment and Latin music, the festival lures tens of thousands of visitors every year from diverse nationalities and ethnic origins.

The social fabric of Miami was very different during the first Calle Ocho festival in 1978. The community was fragmented, and the different ethnic groups did not know each other, said entrepreneur Leslie Pantín, one of the founders of the Kiwanis Club.

The club launched the festival with the name Open House 8, an invitation to the community to familiarize itself with the traditions of Cuban exiles. Only 25,000 people were expected, but 100,000 showed up.

“We thought there was a need to invite the rest of the community to Little Havana to meet the Cubans,” Pantín recalled. “Americans have the open house tradition, which is when you invite neighbors to come to your house. That’s where the name came from.”

Since then the event has broken various Guinness records, beginning in 1998 for the longest conga line in the world, when 119,969 people joined to move their hips to the rhythm of Conga, by Gloria Estefan, who presided over the event.

In 1990, the festival broke the record for the biggest piñata in the world. In 2000, for the longest cigar in the world. And in 2008, for the largest number of domino players at one place: 400 who competed simultaneously.

The idea of the “One World” flag came from Jencarlos Canela, the 22-year-old Cuban American actor and singer who was named the Carnival King this year. The project was done with the help of the International Rescue Committee, a nonprofit organization that helps refugees on five continents.

“We want to represent a world without borders,” said Oasis Peña, IRC’s director of operations in Miami. “The flag forms a number 1, and that’s how we want to see the world.”

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