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The Record, Bergen County, NJ

Latinos Line Parade Route In Paterson; Puerto Rico Day Celebrated


August 26, 2002
Copyright © 2002 North Jersey Media Group Inc. All rights reserved.

It was a rojo, blanco, y azul day for a parade in Paterson on Sunday, un día perfecto for a parade.

And if you were a Puerto Rican, or just wanted to be one for a day, you felt right at home.

The beat of salsa and merengue echoed through the downtown canyons, the scent of barbecued chicken wafted through the air, and thousands from North Jersey and beyond wrapped themselves in the island's flag for Paterson's 31st annual Puerto Rico Day Parade.

"This is the day to be out and show our pride for our island," said Carmen Rios, a postal worker who marched with a crew of Puerto Rican letter carriers past the beaming, screaming crowds.

"We're all brothers and sisters to each other today," said Rios, who accented her postal-blue uniform with a bandana in the red, white, and blue of the Puerto Rican flag.

Sunday was the first parade in which Puerto Ricans could look up at the reviewing stand outside City Hall and see one of their own as mayor. Jose "Joey" Torres took office earlier this year.

Perhaps that was why the crowd was larger than usual. The parade route was jammed by 25,000 to 30,000 spectators, police said in what they admitted was a rough estimate. Normally, about 15,000 to 20,000 show up, Torres said.

Or maybe it was the warm temperatures and deep blue skies.

Also, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Puerto Rico's status as a commonwealth of the United States. That status grants U.S. citizenship to residents of the island, but does not require that they pay federal income tax or allow them to vote for president.

Whatever the reason for the turnout, Paterson was awash in the Puerto Rican flag Sunday. It flew from windows and fire escapes, covered car hoods and sunburned shoulders, and adorned shirts, bandannas, hats, umbrellas, and shorts.

Over on Summer and Market streets, a few blocks from the main parade route, Jose Ortiz hawked toys, T-shirts, and caps with the star, stripe, and triangle of the flag.

It's a day that draws Puerto Ricans and other Latinos from around the region, he noted, from Philadelphia up through New York City, Long Island, Connecticut, and even Massachusetts.

"People come from all over," said Ortiz, a Puerto Rican now living in Hartford, Conn. "It's a pride thing."

Paterson's face has changed in recent years. While Puerto Ricans are still the largest Hispanic group in the city, according to Torres, Ecuadoreans, Dominicans, and others began arriving in the past decade at a faster pace.

That has increased tensions among some in each group, said Louis Perez, a Paterson native of Puerto Rican heritage who sipped from a beer under the hot sun. The parade is an annual antidote, he said.

"We bond on one day," Perez said. "After today, we go back to our lives and our families and maybe even fighting against one another. But for what? Today, we're all Latin."

For Torres, the parade remains a day for ethnic pride, as well as a show of unity for all of Paterson.

And one of memories, as well. Torres took even more satisfaction in leading the parade as grand marshal in 1997, he said - and perhaps more than that as a 12-year-old, when he rode a unicycle along the route.

"Now, I look out there and have to worry about traffic," he said. "It's a lot more fun getting to watch."

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