The National Puerto Rican Day Parade is not just an event . It is a rich document, revealing vast quantities of information about America. A Ph.D. dissertation could be written on the Puerto Rican Day Parade.
It is a US census. When two million spectators show up (more than half the population of Puerto Rico), then we know there’s a lot of Puerto Ricans in New York, and a lot of Latinos in this country. The numbers keep growing every year. We’re not going anywhere. Ann Coulter, smoke on your pipe and put that in.
It is a political campaign. Mayors, senators, congressmen, and countless state and city politicians, all wave the flag that was once illegal, and shout the words ¡Que viva Puerto Rico!
Not too long ago, that would have landed all of them in prison.
It is a pecking order . The more prominent the Puerto Rican, the earlier they get to march. One year, when I was running for the New York State Assembly, we overcame this problem by driving my bus backward along the parade route from 86th street to 49th street, fifteen minutes before the parade started. No one ever caught on, and I won my first election that year…so it must have worked.
It is a celebration of life, where shouting ¡Que viva Puerto Rico! is another way of saying “I’m still here! You haven’t beaten me yet! I may not be rich or famous, but I can still dance!”
In that spirit, here are some reflections of the 2015 Puerto Rican Day Parade.
The Grand Marshall this year was Rita Moreno. On a hunch, I reviewed some of the lyrics from I Like to Be in America…especially the ones sung by Rita Moreno as Anita, where she describes her island of Puerto Rico:
Always the population growing…
And the money owing,
And the babies crying,
And the bullets flying.
I’ll bring a T.V. to San Juan.
If there’s a current to turn on!
To my great alarm, I realized why they had picked Rita as the 2015 Grand Marshall: to remind us all that, after 117 years of US colonialism, Puerto Rico is still a mess…even worse than it was in 1961.
Then of course, came the politicians. This one is too busy running for President in 2024, to do his job in 2015:
This one got the FBI reports released – 1.8 million pages of them – that allowed me to write War Against All Puerto Ricans.
This one looks good in the Puerto Rican Day Parade…because he is half Puerto Rican! Somehow, throughout a 50-year political career, he never got around to admitting it.
Fortunately some of the politics in the parade, was not about getting or staying elected. Some of it really mattered.
A dedicated group of marchers demanded the release of political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, after 34 years in jail…for demanding the independence of Puerto Rico.
Another group, marching behind the Camaradas banner, reminded everyone of the shared history between Oscar López Rivera, Pedro Albizu Campos, Julia de Burgos, and other great Puerto Rican leaders.
There was joy in our parade.
The joy of youth…and dancing…
Then of course, everywhere you looked, was the love of our flag. The thing that unites us all.
Even some of New York’s finest caught the fever. But had she done this in Puerto Rico, in the wrong time and place…this cop would have been arrested, and served ten years in jail.
There were many beautiful men, women and children…of all ages, shapes and sizes.
But the most beautiful thing was our flag.
On that great day, of our 2015 Puerto Rican Day Parade, it seemed like the sun rose with our flag…
And then set with it.
¡Que viva Puerto Rico!
*A special thanks goes out to Jose Oquendo, who shot eleven of the photographs in this essay.