The world’s largest Puerto Rican Day Parade electrified Fifth Avenue Sunday with salsa, reggaeton and a bodacious show of Boricua and Nuyurican pride. And flags. Lots and lots of flags.
“I’m celebrating my heritage. I’m proud to be Puerto Rican and I love my roots, the Spanish music and the craziness of the people when they hear the music,” said Raquel Rodriguez, 38, a full time mom from Red Hook who had her flag in hand.
The mass shooting that happened earlier Sunday in Orlando was on the minds of several paradegoers.
Margie Nieves, 34, a district manager for storage facilities, was queuing up in the din of reggaeton and salsa to march with her motorcycle club, Wicked Riders, determined to “just celebrate the beautiful day.”
Her brother called her early that morning to tell her about the carnage. But Nieves, a lesbian, resolved to table her mourning and celebrate the positive strides that had been made by Latinos and LGBT people and glory in her rich, resilient culture.
Gay men and lesbians “are much more accepted than when I was younger,” in the Latino community, said Nieves, who lives in Jersey City.
“What we’re going to do right now is just put everything behind us and just celebrate. We’re marching together, men and women,” gay and straight, Nieves said.
“This,” she said, gesturing about her to encompass the floats, the dancing city workers, the majorettes and musicians, “is what we’re about right now.”
Spectator Mike Martinez, 29, had flown in early yesterday morning from Orlando to celebrate his heritage in the mother of all Puerto Rican parades, which typically attracts more than a million spectators and 100,000 participants.
He found out about the shooting on his flight to NYC. “I’ve come every year since I was a kid, just for this powerful sense of community,” he said, but the news of what was going on back home “bothers me a lot,” he said.
Concern over Puerto Rico’s debt crisis — the subject of a bipartisan rescue package that has passed congress and awaits senate action – was put aside for the day by many parade goers, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo lauding the current bill in his pre-parade remarks as “good for Puerto Rico, not ideal.”
But George Miranda, president of the Teamsters National Hispanic Caucus and the first Puerto Rican elected to the International Brotherhood’s executive board, had Puerto Rico’s fiscal situation very much on his mind as he prepared to march.
The current bill, he complained, “smacks of colonialism” and “doesn’t take into account the government workers and their families at all.” The Teamsters, he said, want the bill “sent back to the House of Representatives” and reworked, Miranda said.
The 59th annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade is always an occasion for joy and pride. But true justice for the people of the island, said Miranda, is still a work in progress.
With Alison Fox