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¡Siempre adelante! Sunset Park celebrates Puerto Rican pride at annual parade

Brooklyn Boricuas celebrated their island roots with folk dancers, musicians, and artists at the eighth annual Sunset Park Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 9.

The vibrant event saw Puerto Rican flags adorning car windows and revelers flaunting elaborate costumes, while a sizable crowd of attendees cheered from the sidelines, donning the patriotic red, white and blue.

The parade marched along Fifth Avenue from 60th to 41st street, culminating in a lively festival at the neighborhood’s namesake park, the entrance to which featured an architectural installation by Vanessa González, a Nuyorican designer born and raised in Sunset Park.

González’s installation, composed of lightweight tents forming an undulating fabric tunnel system, symbolized the rays of the sun and explored how ephemeral gatherings, like the Puerto Rican Day celebrations, can create regenerative community spaces.

Puerto Rican flags could be seen all along the thoroughfare.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta The parade was well attended by locals of all ages.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

As festival-goers walked through the fabric tunnels, they viewed images of the community, landscapes, and historical moments displayed on the fabric. This interactive experience highlighted the rich cultural heritage of the Puerto Rican community in Sunset Park.

El Grito, a community organization based in Sunset Park, started the parade in 2014 in response to the growing commercialization of the Manhattan Puerto Rican Day Parade and the police aggression they witnessed there.

Over the years, El Grito has continued to celebrate Puerto Rican culture and heritage in innovative ways, while also using the parade as a platform to raise awareness about important issues.

This year’s parade theme, “Las Calles y Las Playas son del Pueblo – The Streets and the Beaches are of the People,” referenced the movement in Puerto Rico opposing the privatization of the island’s beaches, a cause that gained urgency after Hurricane María devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

Brooklynites took to Sunset Park to show their Puerto Rican pride.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta It was a sea of red, white and blue in Sunset Park on Sunday, June 9.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

Deborah Rodriguez Garcia, a board member of El Grito, told Brooklyn Paper that the parade is significant for maintaining the community’s identity while also advocating for their rights as US citizens.

“We are a very distinct group of people in that we are still a colonized community. We are an island that is part of the US as a territory, yet we are not treated as fairly or as equally as US citizens, even though we also have that citizenship,” said Rodriguez Garcia. “The parade is so essential to make sure that our identity is not lost, and that our status as a colonized Island isn’t forgotten, and that we are actively advocating for the rights and the needs of fellow US citizens that have not received the same kind of treatment as other US citizens within the US mainland.”

Rodriguez Garcia said the movement of “Las Calles y Las Playas son del Pueblo” was also chosen to make more people aware that gentrification is a problem that’s affecting the Puerto Rican community in New York.

“This is very true for Sunset Park, where changes are happening and more and more Puerto Ricans are being pushed out of the community because of the rising costs of living and rent,” she said.

Marchers make their way down Fifth Avenue with a massive marionette.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta Crowds rejoiced as marchers made their way down the avenue.Photo by Arthur de Gaeta

This mission of El Grito was also reflected in the honoree of this years parade: Rescate Playas Borinquen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restore recreational areas and protecting the beaches of Ramey in Puerto Rico; and El Maestro, Inc, a community organization that promotes and supports social and cultural development within the Puerto Rican, Latin American, and Caribbean community residing in the South Bronx.

The individuals honored were Juan Gutierrez for his role as founder of Los Pleneros de la 21, and Wanda Lopez-Ramirez for serving the Sunset Park Community as P.S. 001 principal for the past five years.

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