The late great Ramón Jiménez, a Harvard-educated Puerto Rican lawyer and activist, once called Coors “the can of beer that toppled the King of the Parades.”
He was referring to a ferocious campaign a few years ago against the beer company after it put the Puerto Rican flag on its cans with the blessing of Puerto Rican Day Parade’s board.
Jiménez and others forced Coors to back off and apologize for using Puerto Ricans’ heritage as a marketing gimmick, and their actions led the state attorney general to issue a report revealing mismanagement by the parade’s marketing company and shake up the board.
Now, corporate America is crying foul over a new issue. Several corporate sponsors say that honoring Puerto Rican nationalist icon Oscar Lopez Rivera is a bridge too far. Lopez, convicted of seditious conspiracy for his connection to a pro-independence group implicated in bombings, was recently released from federal prison after 35 years. The godfather of Puerto Rican pro-independence politics, Pedro Albizu Campos, was similarly imprisoned.
Goya, JetBlue, AT&T and the Yankees have withdrawn support for the parade. The NYPD, calling Lopez a “terrorist,” and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who laments the (get this) “injection of politics” into the parade, are boycotting the June 11 event.
The loss of corporate money may help Puerto Ricans focus on what’s meaningful when waving the flag — once outlawed on the island by its U.S.-appointed governor. Corporate money fed the commercialization of the parade and shady dealings by the parade’s board.
Instead of being underwritten by corporations, parades and festivals celebrating Puerto Rican culture should be supported by community groups and small businesses run by Puerto Ricans. The Sunset Park Puerto Rican Day Parade, entering its third year, uses this model. The shameful history of the United States in controlling Puerto Rico’s destiny can be traced to the obsession of American government and business in controlling the island’s economy after its so-called independence from Spain.
Puerto Ricans should note that the boycott by corporations that hijacked their parade is addition by subtraction.
Josmar Trujillo is a trainer, writer and activist with the Coalition to End Broken Windows.