By Ruth E. Hernandez Beltran
New York, Jun 12 (EFE).- The joy of New York’s Puerto Rican community, their music and many of their one-starred flags on a somewhat rainy Sunday flooded Fifth Avenue with the in-person return of their traditional annual parade after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 health crisis.
“I’m Puerto Rican, just so you know it!” was heard loudly from among the 75 floats and the roughly 15,000 people who turned out for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and parade down the famous New York avenue, which became more and more jammed with people as the day of the parade’s 65th anniversary progressed.
The parade kicked off after the traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony, in which the parade organizers, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and Grand Marshal Miguel Cardona, who is also the US secretary of education, did the honors.
Cardona told EFE that he was “proud” to celebrate his own Puerto Rican heritage and culture along with other members of his community.
The education secretary said he was “very proud” because he knows that the Puerto Rican flag represents the efforts of his grandparents and parents to come to the US.
Cardona was making his first official appearance at the New York event, considered to be the largest of its kind in the country and the biggest expression of Puerto Rican culture outside the Caribbean island.
Puerto Ricans traveled to the Big Apple from the island itself, from other states and from all five of New York’s boroughs, and one of them was Ashley Aviles and her family, who turned out to celebrate the contributions of their fellow Puerto Ricans, their culture and to show their pride for the island’s flag.
Members of the Puerto Rican community came either carrying, wearing or draped with the island’s flag, waving it with vigor and emotion as the floats and various delegations paraded past their vantage point, and many of them had painted their faces with their national colors – red, white and blue, just like the US – and even had their pets bearing little flags.
“We’ve been here since 7:30 am to get a good spot,” said Aviles, who came with her husband and children and said that she had waited patiently for today to turn out in person once again to celebrate along with other members of her community.
The Puerto Rican flag in black and white, a symbol of resistance, was also present at the parade, where various groups carried signs with messages such as “Puerto Rico is not for sale,” a protest statement against the attempt by investors to buy properties on the island due to the attractive tax exemptions that local authorities expanded after the pandemic in a bid to rejuvenate the island’s economy.
Also on hand were “Las Lolitas,” a group of women dressed as Lolita Lebron, the nationalist figure who in 1954 led an armed attack on the US House of Representatives along with three male colleagues to demand full independence for the US commonwealth.
“I didn’t come to kill anyone. I came to die for Puerto Rico” read the sign that these marchers displayed, using the words spoken by Lebron when she was arrested.
The Puerto Rican parade is also a must-attend event for politicians, particularly in an election year like this one, and several candidates were also on hand, led by Gov. Hochul, who is hoping to win a full term at the polls after taking over as governor in August 2021 when former Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned amid a sexual harassment scandal.
“Rain or shine, grateful to be together again to celebrate the Puerto Rican community after two long years away!” Hochul tweeted.
New York Mayor Eric Adams also attended his first parade as the city’s top official wearing a white, short-sleeved guayabera with images of the Puerto Rican flag adorning it.
Also on hand was former New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who in May launched his campaign for a seat in Congress, as well as Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Congressman Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) and state Attorney General Letitia James, among others.
Throughout the day there were typical dances performed all along Fifth Avenue, with salsa and reggaeton being those most in evidence, and with performances by urban singers Nicky Jam, the King of the Parade, as well as by hip-hop icon Fat Joe.
But the young people really went crazy when a boy on one of the floats, who greeted everyone as if he was some kind of star, was confused with the famous reggaeton performer Bad Bunny.
“Bad Bunny, Bad Bunny!” shouted the euphoric, if mistaken, kids, crowding around his float.