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That Was Then…

When I was a little boy growing up in 1980s New York City, one of my greatest memories was of the summers I spent in a small drum major group; young girls twirling batons or pom-poms, older girls playing portable xylophones, and a group of drummers (mostly boys including myself) marking the beats. We were a small group of mostly poor and working class families from the South Bronx. Yet, the summers were ours. We practiced our routines and prepared for the Super Bowl event of the summer –the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. We would march down Fifth Avenue in our white hats and fringed red jackets, braving the heat and a two-mile route while our parents walked proudly behind us as and the crowds watching the parade cheered us on.

As a college student and then an alumnus, I marched with members of my fraternity, showing our latest “stroll” moves, but also setting examples for the community that higher education is attainable with hard work and focus. Again, the cheers and comments from the crowds showed us that we were doing something right, and encouraged us to move forward for ourselves and the community. The parade has always been a holiday for me. Even now, the weekend is about the music, the sights, and the images of Puerto Rico. I proudly wear my “Puerto Rico gear” and turn the radio on to hear the classic Salsa that was the soundtrack to my childhood. Though I was born in the U.S., parade weekend reminds next generation Boricuas like me that we are still part of the family.

This Is Now…

As what happens with all families, we have come to a crossroads. For years, the parade’s reputation has been in steady decline. It has changed from a family event to celebrate history and culture, to an event you don’t want your kids going to. It has been lampooned by comedians and is a reason for Manhattan’s Upper East Siders to get away for the weekend. These reactions are insulting. Consider how much drunkenness and bad behavior are associated with events like the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and New Year’s Eve, yet they don’t suffer same level of scorn the Puerto Rican community does.

Meanwhile, the parade itself has become less and less about the community, and more about choreographing an event for the TV cameras. Major sponsors and celebrities are given priority over community organizations and groups, like the one I used to belong to, are relegated to unfavorable positions along the route. One year I watched the event on an English language television station, where the hosts didn’t even recognize some of the well-known artists, instead looking for the cross over mega stars.

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About The Author

Miguel Guadalupe

Miguel Guadalupe is a writer, father, husband and South Bronx-born New Jerseyite. Miguel also writes for The Huffington Post and has also had his work featured on thefatherlife.com, HLN.com and CNN.com. He is currently writing a novel, and manages several of Facebook groups in support for Latino fatherhood, including Papi: The Latino Dads Group.

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