Brooklyn native Esai Morales remembers attending the National Puerto Rican Day Parade as a child, looking out at the sea of red, white and blue flags with pride. Now, the actor known for performances as Bob Morales in “La Bamba” and Lieutenant Tony Rodriguez in “NYPD Blue” will lead the 61st National Puerto Rican Day Parade as its grand marshal on Sunday.
“I’m a proud native Brooklyn-born American, but my roots will forever be in Puerto Rico, where my family is from,” he said. “I feel very honored by this distinction.”
The parade comes less than one year after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, and two weeks after a Harvard study suggested that the death toll could be much higher than the official estimate of 64. The parade will honor those who have aided in relief efforts, including first responders and natural disaster relief organizations.
“It’s a serious situation where people lost their lives as a result of negligence, and for those we honor and we pay our respects,” Morales, 55, said. “To those who are still alive and suffering we offer our support, and we offer our congratulations to those who have made it unscathed.”
This year’s theme, “One People, Many Voices,” highlights the diversity of Puerto Rican culture. Morales said that the parade is an opportunity for all Puerto Ricans — liberals and conservatives, advocates for Puerto Rican independence and those for statehood — to observe their shared heritage.
“I’m here to celebrate our collective unity and our desire to thrive in the face of adversity,” said Morales, who now calls Los Angeles home.
The celebration will come with the awareness that many Puerto Ricans are still without power, clean water or livable homes.
“It’s a bittersweet honor, but it’s one that I readily and humbly accept,” Morales said.
Other parade honorees will include baseball players Carlos Beltrán and Jorge Posada, singers Lucecita Benítez and Ismael Miranda, and former Miss Universe Zuleyka Rivera.