The latest controversy shows just how far the event’s focus has shifted. Recent uproar over the flag being placed on a parade sponsor’s beer cans perhaps has less to do with the sponsor as it does with the general disillusionment people have with what the parade has become. I personally don’t have an issue with the can, I bought one myself. I understand how some see this as associating Puerto Rico with alcoholism. But people will drink or not drink beer regardless of what’s on it and we should not give this kind of imagery the kind of power we’ve heaped upon it.
The parade organizers reaction is an example of a “tin ear.” They see the criticism as political opportunists trying to get exposure or trying to take over their jobs. The organizers need to understand that many people, including many next generation working and middle class families, do not see themselves reflected in the parade. The focus on celebrities and endorsements has led to very bad decision making. In 2010, the board had to strip celebrity Osvaldo Rios the honorary title of “Padrino” because of his involvement in a domestic abuse case. In 2011 Coors was again the focus of criticism when they launched their “Emboricuate” campaign — which was deemed too close to the word “emborachate” or “get drunk” with the word “Boricua” embedded in it. The parade has been under increased scrutiny since the 2000 Central Park assaults, and the organizers have faced each criticism without really learning the real lesson: the parade needs to return to its roots.
How do they do that? Well, focus on the individuals that make up the community — the children and the families. Themes should be focused on education, promoting a culture of work and providing positive images outside of “celebrity” that people can look to for inspiration. There probably also needs to be a more diverse set of voices amongst the organizers, people who can bring different types of experiences and can change the current discourse within the rest of the community. And mostly, we have to remember that this parade for many children, this is their Super Bowl. It is their chance to show that they are part of a community with a proud and rich tradition and a chance for the community to show them that they are welcome. We should be focusing on these traditions and less on these scandals.