NEW YORK—Cheers, whistles, horns, and music filled the air on Fifth Avenue on Sunday as an ecstatic crowd gathered to celebrate the 54th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. Spared from the heat wave that scorched the city last week, the conditions were perfect as more than a million spectators filled the sidewalks with red, white, and blue to watch and cheer. Even if you weren't there for the annual festivities, it was hard to get around the city without encountering a Puerto Rican flag, shirt, or bandana.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer were among the elected officials participating.
City police, with decades of experience conducting large-scale parades, efficiently coordinated foot and vehicle traffic around the area.
"I'm proud to be here over the years. My mother and father used to bring me as a little boy, and now I'm 40, here I am, live, celebrating Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican heritage," said parade watcher Edward Sanchez, according to NY1.
Marybel Cruz-Gibson, 38, a Bronx resident born in Isabella, Puerto Rico, has not attended the parade since she was 11 years old. She thought that the parade has grown bigger and better since, with parade floats representing major companies with Puerto Rican roots, like Goya Foods and Banco Popular. She brought her two boys Anthony, 9, and Joshua, 11, to experience the celebration for the first time. Ms. Cruz-Gibson was taking it all in as her sons dashed through the crowd.
“Although we have this parade every year, we should celebrate our heritage every day,” she said.
Traditional dance and music is featured prominently in parade. Several groups danced in unison to the crowd's cheers.
The parade has been celebrated annually since 1958, when it replaced the Hispanic Day Parade. It honors the 4 million people in Puerto Rico and approximately 4 million people of Puerto Rican heritage residing in the United States.
This year's theme is “Celebrating The Natural Beauty of Puerto Rico.” The theme, adopted at the suggestion of the Sierra Club, is meant to raise awareness of the numerous environmental issues threatening Puerto Rico, including commercialization of the island’s Northeast Ecological Corridor and the controversial 92-mile gas pipeline.
“This 92-mile gas pipeline project is going to run through the central mountain range, up and down rivers, up and down mountains, through communities, by the schools, by homes, [and] near the beachfront. It’s going to displace thousands of people from their homes,” said David Galarza, last Thursday, during a protest he organized.
The project faces fierce public opposition on the mainland. A May 1 protest this year drew over 30,000 protesters, despite torrential rain. According to a March 11 poll by El Nuevo Dia, 70 percent of the citizens of Puerto Rico oppose the project.
President Obama will be the first U.S. President, since John F. Kennedy, to visit Puerto Rico in half a century this Tuesday.