When Rafael Castro moved to Tampa from Puerto Rico in 1999, he had a tough time falling asleep.
It wasn't due to loud neighbors or an inability to adjust to a new location. It was the sound of the coqui -- the small frog that is so ubiquitous on the island was missing.
"It's actually a soothing sound," Castro said, laughing. "It's almost a lullaby, and if you lived like I lived in the countryside, it's a cacophony. You have thousands of them."
The inch-long amphibian was heralded Sunday at Lowry Park Zoo's second-annual Fiesta del Coqui. In addition to music, the zoo incorporated Radio Disney, Univision and several other animal displays into the festival.
Castro's band, A Son de Plena, played inside the park's Wallaroo Station. To help him adjust to his new home, his mother sent him a CD a month after his move, full of the sounds of El Yunque National Forest, with a large dose of the coqui.
"I go, 'I cannot believe that this would work,'" Castro said. "Like a charm. It took me probably one night to adjust."
There were no coquis to hold or pet at Sunday's festival, and the frog's distinctive sounds were nowhere to be heard, but it didn't mater. The connection to Puerto Rico was still there.
Aida Guzman attended the festival with her daughter, Jennifer Martin, daughter-in-law, Vicky Guzman, and granddaughter, Jayla Martin. She moved away from Puerto Rico when she was 8.
"When I call my family back in Puerto Rico, they live close to where the coquis live, close to the water," Guzman said. "You can hear them at night, so I call them and I listen to the coqui down there."
The festival isn't just about a frog. It's about passing on a slice of culture to those who are alike as well as to those who are different.
"The coqui is something that has been in Puerto Rico for many, many years, and now the new generation growing up don't know about it," Reymaris Franco, a promotions coordinator for Univision Tampa Bay said. "A lot of people here are Puerto Rican, but they're born here, so they don't know about the coqui."
Hillsborough County is home to nearly 100,000 people of Puerto Rican descent, according to the 2010 census.
Holding his small son and with his wife and other children exploring the nearby animal displays, Chris Diaz said he heard about the event Wednesday on the radio and wanted to pass on something to his family.
"It's to show the kids the culture," he said.
Last year, Castro brought his children to the festival. Before the coqui was just a frog, but he said they get what it represents now.
"From the perspective of us Puerto Ricans, it's a way of, one, staying in touch with our roots," he said. "The fact that it's from Puerto Rico, it can't survive outside of Puerto Rico makes it very unique.
"I also want to convey to other cultures that we have these little, tiny animals and wherever you are, I know people on bases in Germany, when you hear the coqui, it immediately brings you back to those times."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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