I didn't think I was going to go to the Puerto Rican Day Parade this year -- I never go. I went once when I was a kid and don't recall having had a lot of fun. But a few days ago the importance of "el desfile"dawned on me. The parade came up in conversation at work last week and a rather ignorant white coworker just said "I'm getting the hell out of the city this weekend."
It was then that I decided to be the most proud Puerto Rican in New York. By not going, I figured, I was agreeing with that stupid, hurtful comment. Mind you, I don't find those red, white and blue beads that mark this time of year to be tasteful nor do I think overweight young ladies should wear tight jerseys with our island's flag emblazoned on the front. However, at its core, the Puerto Rican Day Parade celebrates the achievements of a community that really wasn't expected to thrive in this country.
I started thinking about my dad, who came from Puerto Rico in the 50s as a teenager to work in the farms of upstate New York. I also thought of my uncles, none of whom finished elementary school, yet all of them put me, and my cousins, through college. I thought about my cousin Roger who grew up down the block from me and tutored me in math -- I think about how he's given his two children classic Spanish names and how they speak Spanish even though they're growing up on Long Island. I thought about my uncle never letting me leave his house without 50, even 100 dollars, when I was in school. He'd just say "did you buy your books yet?"
That got me to thinking about the Puerto Rican teachers at PS1 in Brooklyn who taught me songs about el coqui and who taught me how to dance bomba y plena. Not to mention one Dr. Maldonado who, at the time when Bart Simpson T-shirts saying "Underachiever and Proud of It" were all the rage called a special assembly to remind us that we were worth more than the $5 it cost to sell our potential away.
That's why I showed up on Fifth Avenue with my flag today, proud that the same wherewithall that brought my family to this amazing city is behind this colossal event. Sure, I went to see Ricky Martin (missed him) and J-Lo (pix below), but I also went to be a part of history. So much can change for a people in fifty years. The parade started with 125,000 people who showed up to cheer the floats representing the different towns of Puerto Rico back in the 50s -- today that number is almost a million. And it was all love today on Fifth Avenue. There were gay couples, there were families, there were teenagers. Everyone was well behaved (I left my fashion-critic hat at home today) and I felt like I was at one big family outing.
And I got to see J-Lo for the second year in a row at a pride rally (see last year's pics here). My goal is to take a formal picture with her by next year.
Enjoy the pics. And if you've never been to the Parade, come around next year.
Took the 6 up to the parade. Channeling J-Lo already.
The one day we show love for the po-pos.
Get that money.
Yes, I do want a job in TV and film production, actually.
Ponce is Ponce, everything else is just parking space.
Priceless because she's not even posing for me.
His flag was way bigger than mine.
Jenny from la cuadra showed up on the ill float with strobe lights and plasma screens playing her music videos. Como se dice FIERCE en espanol?
Picture me to her right next year.
Yours truly (l) and Latino James.