The National Puerto Rican Day Parade Brought Culture Alive

Every second Sunday in June marks one of the most highly anticipated events amongst the Puerto Rican community of New York City: The National Puerto Rican Day Parade. The parade is an annual celebration of Puerto Rican heritage in New York City. I am 100% Puerto Rican and have never been to the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in all my 23 years of life, but this year I was determined to change that.

My family’s Puerto Rican Day parade tradition was to watch the parade on television and listen to Marc Anthony, La India and Hector Lavoe on full blast until the neighbors complained. I was raised by a single mother in a household with two older sisters, I could imagine that bringing three children to the parade was more of an ordeal than my mother was willing to subject herself to and I don’t blame her. Nonetheless, all alone, I was heading into the city to see the parade this year and I was super excited to take photos.

As I exited the 6 Train at 59th ave I was immediately met with the clamoring of maracas and chants of “!Soy Boriqua pa que tu lo sepa!” It then dawned on me that this parade was about to be a sight to behold. I was going to dance salsa in the street and say “wepa” as many times as I possibly could even if it killed me in the blistering  97°F degree heat. As I walked towards the parade there were NYPD officers by the swarm. The police were busy directing  foot traffic and trying to contain this crowd of rowdy Puerto Ricans. The first thing I did was purchase a bandana, I tied it around my neck like a true New York City gang member and pushed forward to the epicenter of the parade.

On either sides of the street were radio stations, newscasters, vendors and dudes from the hood selling nutcrackers. The aroma of cigarette smoke, arroz con habichuela and beer blanketed the entire parade like a cloud of cologne. The parade itself wasn’t too spectacular this year because of the controversy surrounding Oscar Lòpez Rivera, one of the parades honorees who was convicted of leading a bomb-planting Puerto Rican nationalist group, and whose lengthy prison sentence was commuted in January.

As a result of this controversy over 50% of the floats initially set to come out in the parade chose to not participate because of the controversy surrounding Mr. Rivera. The  Puerto Ricans in attendance didn’t care because to them we were all there for one reason: to be with one another and to celebrate our culture in unison in one of the cities with one of the highest concentrations of Puerto Ricans outside of Puerto Rico. After being there for about two hours and seeing everything between people getting arrested, a gentleman with a seven-foot-long boa constrictor wrapped around his neck and an elderly couple dancing salsa better than 99.9% of attendees of the parade I decided to put my camera down and dance myself.

I danced to “100%” by Big Pun with a woman old enough to be my grandmother and couldn’t have been happier. Eventually I went to about ten different food trucks serving authentic Puerto Rican cuisine trying to find one that had any vegetarian options. I eventually found a great vegetarian food truck and had a traditional plate of arroz con habichuela con platanos maduros (rice and beans with plantains) with an ice cold horchata. By the end of the day I was exhausted, between dancing and singing every Spanish song being played I was spent. For my first Puerto Rican Day Parade I can say it was a success, to be around people of the same culture was a great experience and the joy of seeing my people in all of their glory in the middle of New York City was amazing. I’ll definitely be at next year’s parade.