Pride, Joy and Political Demands at Puerto Rican Day Parade

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

This post compiles two stories by Juan Garnham, part of the El Diario coverage of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. You can read the original stories here and here.

“Look! That’s Rita! That’s Rita!” said an excited mother to her daughter as film legend Rita Moreno cruised up Fifth Avenue in a convertible among a sea of Puerto Rican flags. Moreno was the National Puerto Rican Day Parade’s grand marshal this year. The 83-year-old actress tirelessly danced and waved at the crowd who cheered from the sidewalk.

Children, youths and adults hailed from the five boroughs to attend the colorful party. Alongside Moreno, other famous Puerto Ricans appeared in the event, including salsa singer Víctor Manuelle, rappers Ivy Queen and Tito El Bambino, actress Ivonne Coll and Broadway composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, who waved the flag energetically as he hollered “¡Viva Puerto Rico!”

Politicians also came by. Among them were Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer, Rep. Charles Rangel, Mayor Bill de Blasio and members of the City Council, led by Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

“Each group made such an important contribution. One the one hand, we had the City Council, who welcomed our Puerto Rican governor, and we were also able to show off our talents,” said parade president Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez. “Important topics for Puerto Rico, such as water pollution in [San Juan’s] Caño Martín Peña and the liberation of [political prisoner] Oscar [López-]Rivera, were well-presented. I am very satisfied with the outcome.”

The people ‒ and their pets ‒ were at the heart of the celebration. Chanting “Yo soy boricua, pa´que tú sepas,” Antonio Rubio walked up Fifth Avenue with his dogs Boogie and Kimba, who donned red, white and blue doggie clothes. “This is my culture. How could I not be here! I look forward to this all year!” said Rubio, who is a “petwear” designer.

Adeliada Marerro, born in the northern town of Dorado and a Bronx resident for many years, danced the parade away. “This is a great day for us because our pride flares up throughout the city. Though the truth is that we started the party yesterday,” laughed Marrero referring to the 116th Street Festival that kicked off the celebrations on Saturday.

In any case, the award for proudest Puerto Ricans goes to the hundreds of mothers and fathers who brought their children to the parade to learn about their roots. Maurice Núñez attended with his three children, Enrique, Benjamín and Ariana. “It is important to bring them here so they can feel their culture,” said the Bronx native as he lifted up 2-year-old Enrique, who wore a Puerto Rican flag wrapped around him.

An estimated one million people were in attendance.

(…)

“Free Oscar López Rivera now!” read the black T-shirt City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito wore at the parade. “The Puerto Rican Day Parade is about our pride, but we also want to speak out about the issues that are important to our agenda,” said Mark-Viverito as she walked along Fifth Avenue.

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

(Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

Nearby, other groups carried signs with the face of the pro-independence leader, jailed since 1981, who refused a clemency offer from President Clinton in 1999.

Many others asked for equal treatment for Puerto Ricans on the island, who are American citizens by birth. “We are demanding a better health system,” said Miguel Hernández, a Brooklyn resident who advocates for additional Medicaid benefits being extended to Puerto Rico. Yet another group protested the environmental crisis in Caño Martín Peña, an important tidal channel that runs alongside downtown San Juan.

Local politicians also took the time to advocate for issues crucial to the city. While Comptroller Scott M. Stringer spoke in favor of a raise in minimum wage, others made statements about rent stabilization laws, which are set to be renewed or expire this week. “If we raise the minimum wage, we can benefit thousands of New Yorkers, especially African Americans and Latinos,” said Stringer.

Public Advocate Letitia James, for her part, handed out brochures in Spanish explaining the rights of tenants living in rent-stabilized housing.

Sen. Charles Schumer said that he saw “people holding signs asking for help with Puerto Rico’s health system, and I’m working on it.”

Lastly, a group of Puerto Rican entrepreneurs also called for the federal government’s support. “We used to have a tax incentive system that attracted U.S. companies to settle in Puerto Rico. Today, those companies are choosing to leave for other countries such as Ireland. We need new incentives,” said Ignacio Veloz, chairman of the board for the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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