In the 1950s, Puerto Ricans often found themselves unwelcome in New York City – and elsewhere in the US – as they tried to carve out a place for themselves and their families. Sometimes beaten by their neighbors, or by the police, they were given the lowest-paying jobs and the worst housing in the city.
And so, in 1958, Puerto Rican leaders decided to hold a modest parade where they could march with pride through the heart of Manhattan.
Fathers taught their children…by pointing to floats dedicated to Puerto Rican towns known for sugarcane, coffee, tobacco, plantains and pineapples.
Mothers tapped their feet…to the bombas, plenas and aguinaldos that evoked memories of their island childhood.
By 1966, the parade was already a “must do” event for national celebrities and politicians.
Today, the parade is a star-studded TV spectacle with 90,000 marchers, 2 million spectators and a horde of corporate sponsors. Marc Anthony, J.Lo, Ricky Martin, Victor Cruz, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg have all “starred” in it.
But even as the National Puerto Rican Day Parade has become one of the nation’s largest and best-known outdoor celebrations, there is a secret that few people suspect…a secret that reaches into the heart of every Puerto Rican, without their even knowing it.
It is the secret of the Puerto Rican flag.
Have you ever noticed the passionate, over-the-top, surrealistic display of Puerto Rican flags at every Puerto Rican Day Parade?
Everywhere you look, it is an ocean of flags!
Block after block, you see this:
And even this:
This is no accident.
There is a reason for this emotional attachment.
There is a reason why Que Bonita Bandera and Preciosa bring tears to our eyes…and sometimes we don’t even know why.
It is because this flag represents an ideal…the ideal of lost youth and forgotten illusions…much like last night’s dream or the prayers we once heard, at our grandmothers’ feet.
But there is one more reason, why this flag is the emotional heart of the parade.
It is the secret which explains everything.
We are crazy about this flag because for many years, any Puerto Rican who owned one, would go to jail for ten years.
WHEN OWNING A FLAG WAS A FELONY
For many years, the United States wanted only one flag in Puerto Rico.
Here is that flag, in the inauguration of the first US Governor of Puerto Rico, in April 1900:
Pedro Albizu Campos refused to salute this flag.
In order to crush Don Pedro and the Nationalist movement, a law was passed in 1948, right after Don Pedro got out of jail.
It was called Public Law 53, and also known as La Ley de la Mordaza…the Gag Law.
Law 53 made it a felony to sing a song, whistle a tune, or utter one word against the US government, or in favor of Puerto Rican independence.
This included singing La Borinqueña, or owning a Puerto Rican flag.
Own a flag…ten years in jail.
Every day, the FBI and Insular Police raided people’s homes, searched for flags, and hauled Puerto Ricans off to jail.
In many cases the flag – all by itself – was the sole piece of evidence.
Own a flag…ten years in jail
They did it all over the island.
In November 1950, they arrested 3,000 Puerto Ricans within one week!
Some of them were only eight years old.
Public Law 53 was passed in 1948.
Even though it violated the US constitution, it took nine years to repeal it, in 1957. The very next year, in 1958, the first Puerto Rican Day Parade was held in New York City.
The flags and celebration were everywhere. The passion was astonishing. New York had never seen anything like it.
The Puerto Rican Day parade exploded into New York City, with the emotion and power of an entire people…who had finally found a voice…for one day on Fifth Avenue.
The U.S. politicians couldn’t explain it, but they did know one thing…that they better get in front of it, and yell “¡Que viva Puerto Rico!”
That much they did understand.
And so, the deep secret of the Puerto Rican Day Parade is this:
The parade was born in the hearts of an entire nation…where every person was declared a criminal…if they dared to show their flag.
Que bonita bandera
Que bonita bandera
Que bonita bandera es la bandera Puertorriqueña
¡ QUE VIVA PUERTO RICO !
For a history of the War Against All Puerto Ricans, read the book…
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