Puerto Rican Parade Hones its Message, While Another Struggles to Survive

This year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade, held on June 10 on Fifth Avenue, will highlight higher education and voting. Meanwhile in Brentwood, Long Island, the previously canceled parade has been saved and will be held on July 22. (Photo by RLJ Photography on Flickr, via Long Island Wins)

For many New York City Puerto Ricans, the Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 10 is an opportunity to party and celebrate their heritage. But this year organizers hope to ground the celebrations with some serious messages — in particular, the importance of higher education and of getting out the vote in the Boricua community, reported Juan Matossian of El Diario/La Prensa.

Madelyn Lugo, president of the parade, announced the theme at a press conference: “Puerto Ricans and Higher Education” which will recognize the achievements and contributions of Puerto Ricans in postsecondary education.

The grand marshal will be Dr. Félix Matos-Rodríguez, president of Hostos Community College (CUNY), and the godfather will be Manuel J. Fernós, president of the Inter American University of Puerto Rico, which turned 100 this year.

With the presidential election coming up in November, efforts to encourage voting are crucial for this year’s parade.

Lugo said that a voter registration drive will also be happening during the parade. “The Boricua Vote” will aim to revive voters’ interest in the upcoming elections this year, since Puerto Rican participation has recently been lagging, according to the organization that organizes the parade.

“A team of volunteers is already prepared to provide guidance and process all requests from Boricua brothers and sisters who are not registered to vote here in New York,” said Lugo.

But while organizers of New York City’s Puerto Rican Day celebrations have honed their parade’s message, organizers of another local Puerto Rican Day Parade have been scrambling just to hold the event.

Residents of Brentwood, on Long Island, have celebrated the annual Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade on the first Sunday of every June for 45 years. But festivities for the island’s largest ethnic parade came to a standstill, Long Island Press reported, when non-profit organization and parade sponsor Adelante of Suffolk County canceled the event, citing a lack of funding. In just over a week, however, Assemblyman Phil Ramos reached out to non-profit experimental theater group Teatro Yerbabruja and other community leaders, who have taken over the parade and scheduled it for July 22. La Tribuna Hispana notes that Ramos is the highest-ranking elected official of Puerto Rican origin on Long Island.

Numbers provided by Newsday, via Long Island Wins, suggest that the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade has become the largest ethnic parade in the area — a reflection of the Island’s growing Latino population.

Close to 59,000 Puerto Ricans live in Suffolk County now as part of a Hispanic community of more than 246,000 people who trace their origins to various Latin American countries.

Adelante officials have said the event attracts more than 30,000 people on average, although an estimated 50,000 were said to have attended last summer.

LongIsland.com offered some history of the parade:

The parade was originally a celebration of the Latin American culture, but as the Puerto Rican community in Brentwood continued to grow, many came to recognize the parade as a celebration of Puerto Rican heritage and traditions.  In recent years a greater variety of hispanic groups from across Long Island have joined the parade, giving the event a wider cultural focus.  Last week Adelante director Miriam M. E. Garcia has said that 45-year tradition of hosting the parade in Brentwood would be disrupted due to a combination of lost corporate sponsorships and reduced state and county funding, bringing the group’s budget down by half a million dollars this year.  Their 2011 financial records indicate that the group spent $20,000 more last year than they brought in.

Prior to news that the parade will go on, Long Island Press spoke to Garcia, who said the decision to step away from the parade came down to financial priorities, when the parade’s $40,000 to $50,000 price tag threatened to drain the organization’s budget.

“Continuing the parade for another year would’ve been especially challenging, because Adelante has an obligation to help the local community with the variety of services it offers, including youth programs, mental hygiene, housing services and after school programs,” she said.

The group will nonetheless continue to have a presence in this year’s parade, reported LongIsland.com:

The Adelante Association has said that it intends to organize the parade in the future, and the group is still invited to play a role in this year’s parade. Assemblyman Ramos announced that the theme of this year’s parade is to honor local hispanic community pioneers, including the Adelante Association which has been providing services to Suffolk County residents since 1966.

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