Three Kings Keep Tradition Alive in El Barrio

The 42nd Three Kings Day Parade in which El Museo celebrates with children, artists, politicians and camels in El Barrio. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

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The Three Kings Day Parade returned to the heart of East Harlem after last year’s 41st edition was cancelled due to a heavy snowstorm. (…)

“We are here to perpetuate our tradition,” said author Jesús “Papoleto” Meléndez, a poet and writer who received one of the parade’s highest honors, that of King Emeritus, at the 42nd annual Three Kings Day Annual Parade organized by El Museo del Barrio.

Although “King Papoleto” did not arrive by camel but on bike, his connection with the community is undeniable. He is considered one of the founders of the “Nuyorican” cultural and intellectual movement, which includes poets, writers, musicians and artists who are Puerto Rican or of Puerto Rican descent. (…)

“This celebration has become the best way to celebrate who we are and our identity, especially at a political moment as crucial as the one we are undergoing,” said the writer, who shared the tribute with honorees Hiram Maristany, artist and photographer involved with the Puerto Rican artists movement; Jorge Ramos, former news anchor for Telemundo 47; and Dr. Betty A. Rosa, chancellor of the Board of Regents of the Bronx’s 12th judicial district.

For many people, celebrating Three Kings Day in the Big Apple is a cry of independence of sorts that resonates every year across local, state and even national politics. Many of the New York Hispanic leaders show up for the parade, which marches along Park Avenue from 106th Street to 115th Street. (…)

“This is a reaffirmation of our culture, our identity, our traditions,” said former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito as she greeted and took pictures with attendees. “I live in this neighborhood, and I am very proud of this celebration, which can serve – now more than ever, with the attacks of [President Trump’s] administration – to show that we are united as a community.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio joined the parade, and the presence of Rep. José Serrano stood out, as well as that of Bronx Borough President Ruben Díaz Jr., Council member Diana Ayala and Council member and candidate to the public advocate seat Rafael Espinal.

Rosario Cabrera had wanted to join the Three Kings Day Parade before, but every time she had to work. So, this year, she woke up very early, dressed her 5-year-old son in several layers of clothes, gloves, hat and scarf, had a coffee and took the 6 train from her home in the Bronx to 104rd Street.

“I want my son to learn about this Three Kings tradition,” said Cabrera, 45, who has spent 20 Christmases in New York. I have two daughters, and I have always talked to them and explained to them what this day is about, but this is the first time I have been able to come, and we are having a great time.”

Her young boy, fascinated by the costumes and the music, gets closer to one of the bomba and plena dancers – two traditional drum-based rhythms from Puerto Rico – who hugs him and wishes him a “wonderful Three Kings Day.”

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