Hundreds of Puerto Ricans marched down Graham Avenue in Williamsburg Sunday in the 25th annual Brooklyn Puerto Rican Day parade.
Along the procession route — also known as Avenida Puerto Rico or Avenue of Puerto Rico — a sea of paradegoers and cars sporting colors of the island’s red, white, and blue flags lit up the day-long spectacle. For many, the joyous event was a fitting time to bring family members to maintain a generational tradition.
“I never miss a year,” said Doris Martinez, 60. “I went with my son this year to show him the positives of our culture and how to honor and show love to his people, so when he gets older he can show to my grandkids.”
Martinez said the parade is a vital celebration of Puerto Rican heritage that she actively takes part in, as well as being avid participant in other cultural heritage events.
But with the approaching one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on September 20 and devastated the island, killing — according to a recenst study — close to 3,000 people, Martinez said the weight of the community’s sadness showed in this year’s lower parade turnout.
“I wish I could say I saw a lot of people, but unfortunately a lot of people are upset with what’s going on in Puerto Rico, and their support minimizes and shows how some people feel,” she said.
Martinez added that that those feelings resonate with her, but she chooses to respond by honoring her culture.
“I get why some people don’t want to celebrate, but I think this is the time and moment to celebrate our culture even more,” she said. “The suffering happening there is felt over here, and this parade is about preserving our heritage.”
Other parade participants agreed, and one said she wanted to channel her heartache into activism to uplift Puerto Rico and its Diaspora.
“I’ve been to this all my life, and now it’s more important than ever because of the situation in Puerto Rico,” said Cynthia Perez.
She said that since the hurricane, a lot of areas on the island remain without electricity, and are still struggling to rebuild. Elevating Puerto Rico and its culture — on the island and the mainland — is the best solution, Perez said.
“I can’t do alone, but we can create a movement among our own to protect our culture here and there,” she said.
Perez noted that the parade venue itself is facing some challenges. Williamsburg was once the preferred destination for many Puerto Rican immigrants when they began settling in Brooklyn in the 1940s and 1950s, but gentrification and rising rents are changing the demographics of the neighborhood.
“I wasn’t born on the island, but it was born in me,” she said. “This is ‘Little Puerto Rico,’ and a lot of people who came here as children didn’t have to change their way of living because there was always a connection here — but we have to make noise or it’s going to be forgotten about.”