The third time’s the charm as El Grito de Sunset Park is gearing up to host its annual Puerto Rican Day Parade and Festival on Sunday, June 11.
Although a fairly new tradition for Sunset, as it was brought back to the neighborhood in 2015, its popularity continues to grow. This year, however, will prove to have a slightly different atmosphere as the country’s political climate will play an integral role in the festivities.
“The theme is that we need to highlight and address the debt crisis that has happened in Puerto Rico and what is occurring the same day (at the Manhattan) parade,” said Dennis Flores, founder of El Grito. “As New York Puerto Ricans, we need to use this platform in this parade. While many people say leave politics out of it, politics have everything to do with it.”
El Grito will use the black and white protest flag of Puerto Rico that was brought about by the student protest and people organizing against the debt crisis to display a sign of solidarity. “We are going to be giving out thousands of those flags for marchers,” he said. “In order for there to be a real dialogue about the colonial status of Puerto Rico, we really need to understand how the narrative has always been controlled.”
The day will include more entertainment than the prior two years. “We’re going to have an orchestra playing at the stage inside the festival, but throughout the evening and there will be speakers,” Flores said. “One is the emcee, a very knowledgeable and articulate entertainer named Sery Colon, a historian who used to own the first Puerto Rican bookstore in Sunset. We’ll have more floats, bands and the traditional folklore music of Puerto Rico Bomba y Plena and musica jibara.”
Co-founder of Defend Puerto Rico Adrian Viajero will also display artwork designed to celebrate Puerto Rican creativity.
Flores also chimed in on the controversial topic of the Manhattan’s Puerto Rican Day Parade’s decision to honor Oscar Lopez Rivera with the National Freedom Hero Award. Weeks after the announcement, Rivera chose just to be a participant as sponsors and politicians backed out of the parade.
Rivera spent 36 years in prison for charges such as seditious conspiracy and plotting to overthrow the U.S. government as a member of Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN), a Puerto Rican independence group which in the 1970s and 1980s claimed responsibility for several bombings in cities around the U.S. President Barack Obama commuted Rivera’s sentence this past January.
“People can lie and say he was convicted of violence when that’s not the reality of what happened in the courts,” Flores explained. “He was not found guilty of anything violent. He was found guilty of conspiracy and he advocated for the overthrowing of the U.S. government, writing and giving public speeches. We are advocates too.”
Flores added that the local neighborhood parade has an advantage over the city’s. “The Manhattan parade has become commercialized and it lost that authentic essence of culture or our traditions,” he said. “It’s about big floats with big names and a big show as opposed to connecting and using the opportunity to address issues going on with the Puerto Rican community on the island and here.”
Bringing the Puerto Rican Day parade back to Sunset has been a struggle for Flores and El Grito at first, as community leaders were hesitant, but they are pleased that it’s been a successful venture. “It’s a great alternative because this is a reflection of the community,” he said. “This is mom and pop shops from the local neighborhoods, local businesses that support us and the mission and vision of this parade.”
The parade begins at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue at 5 p.m. and ends at 44th Street. Performances will follow inside the park. For more information, visit El Grito de Sunset Park on Facebook.