Why I no Longer Go to the Puerto Rican Day Parade
ROBERT "DUBE" COLóN
ike many of my contemporaries growing up in New York City in the seventies, my family and I went to the Puerto Rican Day Parade religiously. I looked forward to it every year as did my brothers and sister. We’d be on the subway before dawn to make sure that we would find a good spot. We needed plenty of room just like everyone else because of the amount of food and the large group that we were rolling with. It was a fierce matter of pride and nostalgia that brought us to The Parade.
Photo: Santiago Nieves
My parents didn’t waive the flag around the house all year, but on the second Sunday in June they always turned up. We loved it so much we would go to The Fountain (72nd St. in Central Park) after The Parade until dark. It was the only expression of overt nationalism that we were aloud to demonstrate in our house.
Of all the brightly colored floats and grand troupes of marching bands that I saw, the two that stood out the most were the contingent of motorcycle police straight from P.R and the Independentistas. The police were shiny and coordinated in all their movements. It was like a ballet the way they would wind their bikes around each other without crashing. The Independentistas stood out for different reasons. Always a rag tag group that inspired boos and jeers from the audience, with their home made banners and make-shift signs—they were never as polished as the other groups, but I always felt an affinity toward them. When I repeated the catchy chant they had spontaneously on the subway ride home one day, “PA RIBA PA BAJO LOS YANKIS PAL CARAJO!” my mother nearly smacked me in the mouth for cursing. “Don’t ever repeat that.” she chastised. I didn’t understand why they were so hated.
As a young adult, I began to look at the Parade in a different light. It became a place to meet girls and hang out with the boys in my early twenties. It had about as much to do with being Puerto Rican as eating rice and beans. We would go down to the Parade in our best gear with our best gab in an effort to get with as many women as possible, the only thing that concerned us was how much beer we could drink and how much leg we could stick. The Parade was only the precursor to the after party at the fountain and in the clubs in those days.
But then I was politicized while my girlfriend was in college. I learned what the United States did to Puerto Rico in 1898 and since. I learned about the lies of Operation Bootstrap and the uniformed experimentation with birth control pills on Puerto Rican women and Agent Orange in El Yunque. I learned about Vieques and the atrocious history of the military including El Massacre de Ponce. I was introduced to entire chapters of United States history that had been excluded during my thirteen year public school education, including the sordid history that the U.S had with Puerto Rico. I wondered why the parade did not reflect these historical realities as well as the contemporary struggles that dominated our daily lives. Why didn’t The Parade pay homage to the many nationalist heroes and sheroes that came out of the colonial relationship created by the United States? Why were the likes of Pedro Albízu Campos, Ramon Emeterio Betances, Ines Maria Mendosa, Anacaona, and Eugenio Maria De Hostos not being celebrated for what they were—nationalists? Why weren’t we celebrating the historical and cultural ties that we have with other Caribbean nations, in particular Cuba and The Dominican Republic? Why were we submitting ourselves to the Commercial interests over political and social interests?
parade is a masterful attempt to ignore the realities of our condition
through a mass political masturbation in lieu of actual political power.|
The smattering of Independentistas that persisted to straggle the end of The Parade every year represents the best that P.R has to offer, an unabashed struggle for independence from the yoke of colonialism. The rest of the parade is a masterful attempt to ignore the realities of our condition through a mass political masturbation in lieu of actual political power. The largest gathering that we can muster is not to protest the killing of a young man at the hands of the police or the threat of a waste disposal plant in our neighborhood, or election day, it’s to holler into the wilderness were it can’t disrupt the status quo. I submit that we can not affect our abject condition so instead we shout out repetitiously at the top of our lungs PUERTO RICO! PUERT RICO! In hopes of drowning out the insistent cries of the victims of colonization on the island and in the U.S. We recognize our impotence if only on a psychological level and instinctively cry out, basking in all the glitz and pageantry that we can muster. The problem is that all the Puerto Rican flags in the world can not replace a decent job for a decent wage. It can’t replace a good education. It does not replace a safe place to live in dignity.
The Parade was dedicated to the memory of Don Pedro. The poor man must
have turned over in his grave at the thought of a parade in his honor
being with corporate sponsorship with the help of the government that
killed him without any mention of Puerto Rican independence. He stood
for the self-determination of our people not the prostitution of our
culture. He would have straggled The Parade along with the rest of the
Independentista contingent that valiantly decry the shame of dependence
in the face of the wave that pretends to crush them.
A PARADE OF REAL PUERTO RICANS
the 1970s, the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City maintained a
mixture of cultural pride, consumerism and social and political
consciousness, reflecting in many ways what Puerto Ricans were
experiencing in the United States and on the island. Just as in the
hearts and minds of residents from the Bronx to Mayagüez, political
groups like the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party maintained a presence in
the Puerto Rican Day Parade, reminding everyone between the Colgate and
Coca-Cola float a struggle still existed. Photo courtesy of Puerto Rican Nationalist Party/ National Junta in Puerto Rico.
The organizers also managed to jump on the Vieques band wagon at the end of that struggle. It was Johnny come lately but at least Johnny made it. This demonstrates that the organizers of The Parade are recognizing that Puerto Ricans do live in a political context which adversely affects our lives. Although this year they have they have chosen to make no attempt to deal with any political or social issue of relevance even cursorily. They are back to form. There is nothing pressuring them to do so and as a result they are not forced to.
I submit that the immense effort that is spent in organizing this massive event could be funneled toward our political, social, economic, and educational advancement as a group and not for the economic advancement of a few beneficiaries at the top. With so many issues that continue to plague the Puerto Ricans on the island and in the diaspora, it is with great disappointment that I witness year after year the ignorance of serious issues. The popularity of the Parade could serve as a spring board for the political, economic, educational and social mobilization of the masses of the Puerto Rican community. Instead it serves the interest of the corporate elite in Puerto Rico and the United States. We should not attend until it reflects our historical and contemporary realities in its form and its function.
ROBERT "DUBE" COLON wrote this article for SalsaMerengue.com