Celebrating culture while remembering the fallen.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria that left Puerto Rico last fall with massive destruction and a rising death toll, Sunset Park’s fourth annual Puerto Rican Day Parade and Festival on Sunday, June 10 was celebratory, resilient, and sometimes somber.
The day’s rainy weather did not put a damper on the growing tradition, hosted once again by El Grito de Sunset Park, that began at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street.
Organizer and El Grito founder Dennis Flores found the day to be a big success that gave the Sunset Park community an outlet to both celebrate and pay tribute to those who were impacted by the hurricane.
“We didn’t have as big a turnout as we have in the past but those who needed to be there were there,” he said. “We had a lot of support and it was a good day. It gives us a connection to our cultural history more than anything. A parade is a ritual. We want to bring about awareness about what’s happening in our communities.”
Congressmember Nydia Velázquez, who was honored as the parade’s Madrina, discussed the hardships the island still faces.
“Here we are in Sunset Park, in the heart of the Puerto Rican community in Brooklyn, to say to you thank you for providing the relief that was so much needed for the people of Puerto Rico,” she said. “Don’t forget this number: 4,645 people perished because the federal government and the Trump administration relinquished their responsibility to assist our fellow citizens of Puerto Rico. Shame on him. The most fundamental responsibility of any president is to show up when a natural disaster strikes. And he failed miserably. Don’t get mad, just get even. Organize and persist and remember we have to provide a voice for the people of Puerto Rico.”
The commanding officer of the 72nd Precinct, Deputy Inspector Emmanuel Gonzalez was the parade’s Padrino.
“I’m very proud to be part of Sunset Park,” he said. “A lot of people came together when this hurricane occurred and there were people crying in the streets. People buying generators, water, all types of things. Slowly but surely the truth will come out. Recently, there was a study that said over 4,000 died during the hurricane. Believe me there were more, due to the lack of medicine and essential items.”
The Sunset Park Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District (BID) was thrilled to be a part of the day
“The parade was a success despite the light rain,” said Interim Executive Director Cathy Williams. “Our board members Delvis Valdes and his family, Edgar Alvarez, Patrick Hayes and Richard Villar marched alongside BID staff including myself, Eduardo Artica and numerous volunteers. It was a great event.”
Following the parade and festival, a candlelight vigil was held inside Sunset Park, 44th Street and Fifth Avenue, where hundreds of attendees remembered the fallen.
Local artist Adrián Viajero Román organized the event.
“The vigil came about from going back and forth to Puerto Rico since October,” he said. “I had just come back from visiting the memorial in San Juan and it impacted me a lot. It feel like that something missing in New York and I wanted to bring it to my own community in Sunset Park.”
“It was a somber mood but it was also a place of healing,” added Flores. “Our community and our people needed this.”