A More Authentic Puerto Rican Day Parade in Sunset Park?

A scene from last year’s Puerto Rican Day Parade in Sunset Park. (Photo via Brooklyn Media Group)

[Editor’s update and clarification: An earlier version of this post noted that Republican mayoral candidate Nicole Malliotakis’ office said she would participate in the Sunset Park parade. El Grito de Sunset Park’s Dennis Flores was reported as saying that she would not be welcome. Voices of NY should have asked Flores directly about the matter.]

This is the third year that Sunset Park is holding its very own Puerto Rican Parade, on June 11, and with controversy swirling around the main parade to be held the same day in Manhattan, the Brooklyn-based upstart may get some more attention – and attendance.

Because FALN leader Oscar López Rivera, recently released from prison, was originally going to be honored during the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, numerous sponsors and politicians pulled out of the parade. Rivera has since said that he will participate as a private citizen.

The organizers of the Sunset Park event, while they criticize the big parade for becoming commercial over the years, don’t understand the fuss over López Rivera. Dennis Flores, founder of El Grito de Sunset Park, which is presenting the event in Sunset Park, spoke with Jaime DeJesus of Brooklyn Reporter about the controversy.

Rivera spent 36 years in prison for charges such as seditious conspiracy and plotting to overthrow the U.S. government as a member of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a Puerto Rican independence group which in the 1970s and 1980s claimed responsibility for several bombings in cities around the U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Rivera’s sentence this past January.

“People can lie and say he was convicted of violence when that’s not the reality of what happened in the courts,” Flores explained. “He was not found guilty of anything violent. He was found guilty of conspiracy and he advocated for the overthrowing of the U.S. government, writing and giving public speeches. We are advocates too.”

Flores added that the local neighborhood parade has an advantage over the city’s. “The Manhattan parade has become commercialized and it lost that authentic essence of culture or our traditions,” he said. “It’s about big floats with big names and a big show as opposed to connecting and using the opportunity to address issues going on with the Puerto Rican community on the island and here.”

Go to Brooklyn Reporter to learn about the speakers, including an entertainer and historian, who will offer parade-goers in Sunset Park a chance to engage in “real dialogue about the colonial status of Puerto Rico.” Politics, says Flores, will be very much a part of the event.

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