The impact and meaning of the parade whether you choose to go or not really is undeniable.
“I think it’s significant to have such a large event to highlight and celebrate a Latino group in a country that struggles with Latino and immigrant issues,”
Tapia, who took his own children several years ago, said.
“I believe that Puerto Ricans are trailblazers for Latinos in many areas, and this celebration of millions of people is a testament to the strong presence and impact of Puerto Ricans in the US.”
It has, nonetheless, been marred. In 2000, dozens of women were sexually assaulted in Central Park by male spectators near the parade route. Other wounds have been self-inflicted such as in 2010 when novela actor Osvaldo Rios was selected as International Padrino and it was revealed he served time in prison for domestic abuse. Those news reports and headlines are sometimes all that people, who know nothing about the community, see or hear. The events and resulting bad p.r. even resulted local businesses along the parade route boarding up their windows for fear that their property would be damaged. An action which in and of itself brought protest and allegations of discrimination.
Diverging opinions aside, the way the parade itself has evolved is impressive by anyone’s standards. Debuting in 1958 as a modest East Harlem jaunt, the desfile’s mission is to
“emphasize the achievements made by thousands of Puerto Ricans…to inspire our youth and instill a strong sense of self-worth and pride in our community,”
according to the organization’s website. Fifty-five years later, it is a national non-profit entity that coordinates events such as a beauty pageant, scholarship dinners and festivals throughout New York City. The parade itself is an American pop culture phenomenon. The event stretches for 35 blocks down Fifth Avenue, is nationally televised and attracts millions of people every year. Although most cities with a sizable or historic Puerto Rican community have a parade the national event is the largest outdoor ethnic celebration in the country.
Like any other event that has mass appeal, it attracts supporters as well as opportunists. At the end of the day, the biggest question really is — which side do you choose to be on?