For New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent — and of all ages — the National Puerto Rican Day Parade is a rite of passage.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, the parade’s “Nuestro Orgullo” (Our Pride) award honoree this year, says one of his favorite memories was when his father got grand stand seats to the parade.
“Marc Anthony was playing on the bandstand and Tito Puente came by on a float and just jumped on stage and joined him,” says Miranda, who rose to fame with the Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights” and whose new musical “Hamilton” begins previews on Broadway next month. “He knew all the words to Marc Anthony’s songs. It was such a thrill for me.”
Miranda will have stars in his eyes at this year’s parade for another legend.
“I plan to hang out with [grand marshal] Rita Moreno as much as possible, that’s my home girl,” he says. “She’s as cool as you hope she’d be.”
You can also bet he’ll be waving the Puerto Rican flag proudly.
“What’s joyous about that day in the city is you can just wave your flag and yell ‘Boricua’ into the air and people will respond,” he says.
It’s that sense of community, and the great music, that keeps drawing opera singer Martina Arroyo to the parade. “It’s got that familiar, home-like feel,” she says.
Both Arroyo and Marta Moreno Vega, founder of Harlem’s Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, are being honored as part of a special celebration of Afro-Puerto Rican heritage this year.
“It’s a moment when you get to value where you came from,” says Vega of the parade. “And for that moment, the flag of your island is acknowledged.”
Vega grew up in East Harlem, or El Barrio, an area she says is becoming less Puerto Rican these days as more Puerto Ricans have moved to the South Bronx due to rising rents in Manhattan.
“Fewer neighborhoods are all one thing or all another — it’s the melting pot,” adds Arroyo. “We’re living together and that’s wonderful, as long as you don’t lose pride in where you came from.”
But East Harlem still has some Puerto Rican staples, Vega says, such as the restaurant La Fonda Boricua and the Taino Towers, whose ballroom is often rented out for music and dance events. On the cultural side, El Museo Del Barrio showcases Puerto Rican and other Latin American culture and art.
Miranda also pointed to the record shops of East Harlem as a truly authentic part of the Puerto Rican experience in New York. And the Nuyorican Poets Cafe on the Lower East Side is where he’s seen many poets of Puerto Rican heritage perform slam poetry.
Though when asked where the best Puerto Rican food can be found in the city, Manuel responds, “That’s a trick question. The answer is always your mother’s house.”