The National Puerto Rican Day Parade. For some of us, it’s practically a national holiday. It’s the one day a year you can set foot in Manhattan and see the flag, hear the songs and see Puerto Rican culture on display. For natives, the experience provides that tingling rush usually only felt amongst family or community. Non-boricuas get a taste of the insurmountable pride New York City’s oldest Latino group possess in a very big, public way. Then, there are some of us who might grimace, shake our heads at the desfile being mentioned and/or vow to stay away from the city that second Sunday in June. Que, que?! Not all Boricuas love the parade? The answer is: no, some of us even take issue with it.
Why? It’s more than just the usual annoyances — traffic, crowded sidewalks, etc. — that come with attending a large outdoor event. It’s the understood, but unspoken, flipside of the day: that many people (Puerto Rican and non-Puerto Rican alike) who attend know little about the island nation (even its location on a map), it’s history (the world’s oldest colony), the community (we’re American citizens), or the issues and challenges it and those in diaspora still face (we’re still the poorest, least educated ethnic group in the US). As a New York Boricua that started going to the parade in high school I loved being around mi gente, relished the smells, sights and sounds on the street and the frenzy that a flag wave created. Then it got popular and wilder and sometimes dangerous. I watched dudes roam in packs aggressively propositioning women. I saw girls assaulted. I saw folks who previously cracked on my culture suddenly jump on the Puerto Rican bandwagon. My enthusiasm went from unquestioned happiness to brow-furrowing speculation. What were we there to do again? Who and what were we celebrating? The meaning — to showcase the accomplishments and people — felt lost. So I stopped attending.