Today is the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Contrary to what you may (or may not) have heard, the parade isn’t a rape fest, or an organized crime spree. The following was posted by a Boricua* for the NY Post several years ago and it features the many highlights of what is still one of the largest (if not the largest) outdoor event in the U.S. A little personal side note: one of my sisters was a PR Parade Beauty queen (in the mid 70s).
From beauty queens who marched in heels to politicians who sported fake smiles to win some votes, to the controversial ‘Seinfeld’ episode, the Puerto Rican Parade has made Big Apple history for over half a century.
March 1958: Leaders from the Puerto Rican community decide to break away from the Hispanic Day Parade and create the Puerto Rican Day Parade. According to an editorial in “El Diario,” the main objective of the Hispanic Day Parade, which was mainly run by Puerto Ricans, is to unite all peoples of the Spanish language. The Puerto Rican Day Parade is founded by Victor Lopez, the march’s first president; coordinator Jose “Chuito” Caballero; Peter Ortiz; Luisa Quintero; Luis Amando Feliciano; Vicente Hernández; Angel M. Arroyo; Atanacio Rivera Feliciano; and Amalio Maisanave Ríos.
April 1958: The first Puerto Rican Day parade is held on Fifth Avenue on April 14 as 5,000 Boricuas march in front of a crowd of 125,000. It’s a huge success, receiving a hail of positive reviews from the media. The Herald Tribune says, “There are longer and larger parades but none encompass the spirit of the Puerto Rican Day Parade,” and the New York Times says, “The Puerto Ricans have taken over Fifth Avenue.” Then-New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner is quoted in the New York Times, as saying “The Puerto Ricans have demonstrated their civic and cultural contributions to the City of New York.” But what really got tongues wagging was when Gloria Burgos, the queen of the parade, and her court, walked all 34 blocks in high heels after the float she was supposed to appear on never showed up. Attendees included then-Governor of Puerto Rico Don Luis Muñoz Marin and Oscar González Suarez, Esq. as the Grand Marshall.
April 12, 1959: The second parade goes off — but not without a hitch. Community leaders and the media form an alliance called Un Frente Unido por un Solo Desfile (A United Front for One Parade) in an effort to unite the Hispanic Day Parade and the Puerto Rican Day Parade, urging organizers for unity and harmony. But to no avail. The president of the parade, Mr. Victor Lopez, is quoted in El Diario de Nueva York as saying, “The parade will definitely not unite with any other Hispanic parade in New York City.” Despite the 40-degree weather, it’s attended by 160,000 people and more than 10,000 people make their way up Fifth Avenue. Then-New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller is in attendance.
April 1960 & 1961: Parade continues its success up Fifth Avenue with more than 165,000 in attendance both years.
June 1962: It’s official! The parade is held on June 10, the second Sunday in June and that date has not changed since. In order to have the legislators from the main island attend the parade – they’re all tied up until May 30 — organizers decide to change the date to accommodate them and the route is extended from 44th-86th streets. Good thing they waited! The ‘62 parade is billed as the best, brightest, biggest and most expensive ever, costing $100,000 with 50 floats and 40 bands — and half a million Boricuas in attendance. Yet it was former Mayor of San Juan Felisa Rincón who stole the show. Instead of staying with the rest of the politicians at the stage on 64th Street, she made the decision to ride in a convertible, causing an outpouring of love and support from the crowd.
1965: Described as the best organized parade yet, thousands of people start lining along the route to get a glimpse of what the media called “The most genuine representation of Boricuas in the United States.”
1967: For the first time in its history, the Puerto Rican Day Parade is broadcast on television the same evening, June 4 from 9 p.m.-10:30 p.m. on channel 47 Telemundo, sponsored by Schaefer Beer.
1968: The parade goes commercial. Responding to a petition by various Puerto Rican organizations, Goya, Accent, Café Caribe and Sazón all donate floats to the parade and once again, the event is hailed a success.
1969: The parade marks its first political incident, as supporters of Castro and Puerto Rican Nationalists march in protest and try to disturb the festive sprit by yelling “Yankees Go Home!” But nothing can ruin the excitement of over 100,000 marchers and 350,000 spectators. The festivities continued with no further interruptions, highlighted by artists such as the great Rita Moreno.
1972: Hailed as one of the most diverse parades in years, this year the parade opened its doors not just to dignitaries and beauty queens but also to nationalist and militant groups. They are allowed to march peacefully in protest against the U.S. involvement in Puerto Rico.
1975: Once again the parade hits another peak when more than half a million people march up Fifth Avenue for the annual festivities. The parade is dedicated to singer, songwriter and composer Bobby Capó, who, to this day, is considered one of Puerto Rico’s best.
1977: With 350,000-plus in attendance, the parade is once again interrupted, but not by communist or nationalist groups. This time it’s former New York Congressman Herman Badillo. The police had to intervene when, without authorization from parade officials, he and his legion of organizers — he was running for mayor — decided to march. “El Diario La Prensa” quoted him as saying, “I march because I am one of the founders of the parade.” To avoid any further disruptions, coordinator Federico Pérez told police to let them march.
1980s: Throughout the ‘80s, the parade goes off without a hitch. It gets larger as more than 200,000 march and attendance nears the one million mark. The parade acquires more sponsors, such as Budweiser and Heineken, and many Puerto Rican legends, like Tito Puente, march. There are also flurries of parades throughout the boroughs and in New Jersey.
1990: One question was on the mind of every Boricua at the parade, should Puerto Ricans living in the United States be allowed to vote on the island’s future? The referendum on whether the island should become a state, stay a commonwealth or become independent was front-page news and on the minds of the politicians, such as then-Bronx Borough President Fernando Ferrer and former New York Mayor David Dinkins. However, some onlookers boo the politicians, deciding the parade was no place for politics.
1995: It goes national! The Puerto Rican Day Parade becomes the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and delegates from 31 states join in. Salsa is the theme this year as singing sensations Tony Vega and Jerry Rivera join the march, along with the granddaddy of them all, Parade Godfather Gilberto Santa Rosa.
1996: The man who is known as the father of Puerto Rican culture, anthropologist, geologist and recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities award, Dr. Ricardo Alegría, is honored as the grand marshal of the parade. It is dedicated to the Korean War’s highly decorated 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico. It is also broadcast for the first time on English-language TV, New York’s WPIX/Channel 11. Seventy floats and over 150,000 marchers take part. And close to 2 million come out to boo then-Mayor Rudy Giuliani (and cheer Geraldo Rivera).
1998: Oh yes they did! They went there. A week before the “Seinfeld” grand finale and a month before the parade, Boricuas everywhere were shocked when one of the most popular shows in TV history aired the infamous flag-burning episode. The episode is set around the Puerto Rican Day Parade where Seinfeld and his buddies are driving back to the city after a Mets game and get stuck in traffic. Kramer blurts out “every Puerto Rican in the world must be out here.” While lighting a cigar with a sparkler, he sets a Puerto Rican flag on fire when he throws the sparkler in the back seat. In an attempt to put out the flames, he starts stomping on it. A group of spectators see him and declare “Maybe we should stomp you like you stomp the flag!” He screams and runs off as they chase him. Jerry, who by then is in his apartment, makes it to the window in time to see the crowd destroy his car. All while Kramer says, “It’s like this every day in Puerto Rico.” Because of the backlash, NBC promised to never air the “Puerto Rican Day Parade” episode again. Coincidentally, the parade for the first time is aired nationally on NBC. Still, organizers were able to attract more corporate sponsors as Hershey and Palmolive join. A heavy downpour would not keep folks away as they danced to the sounds of La India and Marc Anthony and enjoyed watching Julio Diaz, known for dancing around NYC subways with a foam woman attached to his waist.
1999: The first-ever Puerto Rican Day Parade is held in Queens.
2000: It’s a sad day for all, as the parade is dedicated to the memory of Boricua Great Tito Puente, whose unexpected death comes one month before the national event. And, in a shameful turn of events, the parade, not ever having a single incident of lawlessness, is marred by controversy as more than 50 women are assaulted in Central Park. The world watches as video is shown by various news organizations. As it turns out, most of the men arrested were not Latino or Puerto Rican. In total, 18 are arrested for the assaults. The police are accused of not doing enough to stop the attacks. Video showed police doing nothing while the women are groped and stripped.
2001: Although the assaults of the previous year loom over the parade, politicians such as former Mayor Guiliani, Senator Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer urge people to not hold the parade responsible for the previous year’s tragedy. Celebrities come out in droves, including boxing champ Tito Trinidad, Marc Anthony, former Ms. Universe Denise Quiñones and Puerto Rico’s first female governor, Sila M. Calderon. The focus of the parade was Vieques and thousands wore white ribbons in support of efforts to stop the bombing and remove the Navy from the island.
2002-2003: Even though a record-breaking 2.5 million Puerto Ricans attended the parade in 2003, the public and media won’t forget what happened and the positive message to be proud of Puerto Rican heritage and its contributions to America seems lost.
2004: There’s controversy again as businesses and condos board up their exteriors along the route. Storeowners and tenants claim property will be destroyed by parade goers. The community is outraged and Mayor Bloomberg criticizes the move. The Post sponsors its first float, featuring reggaetón superstars Tego Calderon and Vico C.
2005: Reggaetón continues to rise in popularity. Daddy Yankee is the N.Y. Post’s float star. At 96th Street, he has to be escorted out by police as thousands of screaming fans storm police barricades to get close to their idol.
2006: Rocking a guayabera, Mayor Bloomberg marches alongside the Latino mega-power couple Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez. Rosie Perez, Jimmy Smits, Willie Colón and Don Omar, among others, march. Grand Marshal Marc Anthony and J-Lo sit in a convertible and are escorted by NYPD security 12-deep. The New York Post keeps it local, getting Yerba Buena to rock their float with traditional folkloric songs.
Boricua: The term boricua has become synonymous with Puerto Rico’s native heritage. The island’s national anthem, for example, is La Borinqueña. The term comes from the Taíno (original inhabitants of Puerto Rico) word for the island: Boriken. You’ll see and hear boricua everywhere in Puerto Rico and anywhere people of Puerto Rican descent gather: on restaurant menus, in songs, in everyday language.
Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños at Hunter College; El Diario; El Imparcial; El Diario; La Prensa.
My name is Eddie and I’m a boricua in recovery from civilization…