Borincanos celebrate, brushing off controversies and fiscal crisis
Puerto Ricans of multiple generations lined Bronx streets from 183rd Street to 205th Street last Sunday, adorning the Grand Concourse in shades of red, white, blue and gold. Behind barricades they chanted, cheered and sang along to the songs of their countryman Marc Anthony while dancing and waving the Puerto Rican flag.
While thousands lined the streets to take in the 31st annual Bronx Puerto Rican Day Parade, some 500 others marched north along the Grand Concourse in colorful getups. Decorative floats carried this year’s honorees, including Paloma Izquierdo- Hernandez, the president and CEO of Hunts Point-based Urban Health Plan, Bronx County Supreme Court Justice Lucindo Suarez, and the borough’s parks commissioner Iris Rodriguez-Rosa. The grand marshal was former Rep. Charles Rangel.
“We’re all about raising the flag and the culture, and motivating the youth,” said Diana Vega, assistant marketing director for Mas Productions, one of the event’s organizers.
Young dancers from Da Brand Dance Group waved flags high while marching in striking red and gold dresses. A group of cadets from Star of the Sea – Sea Cadet Corps marched to the rhythm of snares and bass drum. Cyclists from Bronx Bikers rolled along, stirring up onlookers and honking to shouts of “Boricua!” A fleet of classic and modern cars inched past, their hoods, trunks and windows covered in Puerto Rican flags.
“The parade is part of our culture. It’s about music, art, dancing,” said Arlene Navedo, 52, who lives in Bronx Park East and has been coming to the parade for 20 years. “It keeps people united.”
Despite the good cheer, a shadow hung over this year’s parade, as the city’s Puerto Rican community worries about its homeland. Puerto Rico owes more than $74 billion to creditors from both the island and the mainland, and over $40 billion in pension liabilities.
This year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade, which will follow its standard route along Manhattan’s 5th Avenue this Sunday, June 11, is struggling to keep sponsors on board since the committee extended its first-ever “National Freedom Hero” designation to Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar López Rivera. Companies like AT&T, Jet Blue, and even the Yankees, have so far backed out of the parade over that controversy.
López Rivera, now 74, was sentenced in 1981 for his involvement with the militant FALN group, which was linked to more than 100 bombings that injured dozens and killed five in its fight for Puerto Rican independence. He was released from house arrest in Puerto Rico on May 17 when former President Barack Obama commuted his 55-year sentence.
Many residents said they disagreed with sponsors’ decisions to pull out, insisting that López Rivera has already paid his debt to society. Though López Rivera was found guilty for his participation with the separatist group, he was never charged in connection with the bombings.
“I understand what’s happening, but he’s one of ours. We can’t turn our backs on him,” said Gun Hill Road resident Julio Crespo, 64, in Spanish. “It doesn’t seem fair.”
As a result of the controversy his participation has stirred, López Rivera decided last week to decline the invitation to serve as an honored guest in the march, stating in a New York Daily News op-ed that he will march “not as your honoree but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.”
Despite those concerns, parade-goers celebrated their culture under a light rain. Rep. José E. Serrano (D), who was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico and has sought to ensure that Puerto Ricans are treated fairly, said unity is what matters.
“The parade is a time for Puerto Ricans from around the nation to celebrate our history, our heritage, and our culture,” said Serrano. “This is why I always planned to march, as I have done throughout my career serving the Bronx and the largest Puerto Rican population in New York City, regardless of the controversy that emerged around Oscar Lopez Rivera’s participation. In these difficult times, we need to focus on what unites us and not what separates us as a community.”