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The Hartford Courant

Hartford Parade Bursts With Pride

Puerto Rican Day Festivities


June 17, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved.


Eddie Perez, the first Hispanic mayor Of Hartford.

(PHOTO BY: Shana Sureck)


As salsa music pulsed from a float rolling down Main Street in Hartford Sunday, Walkiria Chabaro gently tapped out the rhythm on her boyfriend's back. She and Edwin Rivera drove from Meriden for a second year to watch the Puerto Rican Day Parade and, though they couldn't stay for the festivities that followed in Colt Park, both agreed it was worth the trouble.

"I feel like I'm home," said Rivera, 19, who moved to Connecticut two years ago from Aguada, a small coastal town about an hour from the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan. "There are so many young people."

Old, young, it didn't seem to matter as the boisterous, colorful display of cultural and ethnic pride wound its way from Pleasant Street, down Main Street and to the park. Everyone along the route appeared caught up in the excitement, either waving Puerto Rican flags or wearing something bearing its white star and red, white and blue colors.

A contingent of politicians that included a tuxedo-clad Mayor Eddie Perez, state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Bill Curry, led the procession. A seemingly endless line of floats and marchers emerging from Pleasant Street followed them.

Parade queen hopefuls, wearing tiaras and gowns of satin and toule, waved from some of the floats. Dancers from a studio in New Haven gyrated aboard another.

Las Estrellas Tropicales, a troupe from Boston, strode past in matching gaucho outfits. Meriden, New London and Waterbury were among the cities represented by drill teams.

Catherine and Cynthia Camacho, aged 8 and 5, respectively, watched wide-eyed from two miniature camp chairs on the curb. Their father, Joaquim Camacho, said both girls were at the right age to begin learning about the music and heritage of the island, a U.S. commonwealth.

"I think people should remember where they come from," said Camacho, who grew up in Hartford and now lives in East Hartford with his wife, Elizabeth, daughters and 1-year-old son. "When I was growing up, my folks taught me never forget your background and heritage."

The bacalaitos, mabi, and pasteles are what brought Lillian Valez back for another year. Vendors selling the codfish filled fritters, sweet grape juice and pastries awaited the New Britain resident and her friends at Colt Park, where the celebration continued until dusk.

At $3 a pop, souvenir vendor Derrick Davis was doing a brisk business in flags, but not much else. The crowd seemed smaller than in previous years, he said from his post across from the Wadsworth Atheneum, adding that it could be due to the cooler weather and rain.

But spectators were anything but sparse a few blocks closer to Park Street, the commercial heart of the city's Latino community. Honking cars draped with flags clogged the narrow strip in both directions. Onlookers cheered from open windows, balconies and the sidewalk.

Hartford resident Benjamin Rivera climbed the stairs in front of the South Church to get a better view. "I like the music, colors, bands, all that," said Rivera, 27, as his 3-year-old niece slept in his arms. "It's just the spirit of the community. It's so alive."

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