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To Cheer All Things Puerto Rican: The Day When 5th Ave Runs All The Way To SJ…Booing Bloomberg, Cheering Pataki…Plywood Up, Parade Coming…Day Can Pull The Heart Two Ways

To Cheer All Things Puerto Rican


June 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.


Fifth Avenue was a sea of red, white and blue for Sunday's festivities.

PHOTOS: James Estrin/The New York Times


Where is the Fifth Avenue of Saks Fifth Avenue, of Bergdorf Goodman and Tiffany & Company. And then there is the Fifth Avenue that comes to life during the National Puerto Rican Day parade, arguably the most festive event of the city's parade season, the one that transforms the storied street into a whirl of beauty queens and marching bands, hip-hop and salsa, pride and nostalgia.

This is not generally the sort of parade you just happen by. For New Yorkers with even tenuous ties to Puerto Rico, it is something to set the alarm for, even on an overcast day like yesterday. It is an event that requires preparation.

For Ileana Gonzalez, 16, a junior at Walton High School in the Bronx, the preparations started Friday, when she had her acrylic nails painted like the Puerto Rican flag. They continued Saturday, when she bought this year's parade outfit: a sleeveless blue dress with "Puerto Rico" in red letters. And it continued yesterday, when Ileana left home with her relatives — "aunts, uncles, everybody" — at 9 a.m., in time to secure a spot right behind the barricades on the east side of Fifth Avenue near 61st Street.

"This is the highlight of my year," said Ileana, who spent several years of her childhood in Puerto Rico and returns during summers. "To be proud of where you came from, it's the best."

There were marching bands from Puerto Rico and baton-twirlers from the Bronx. There were convertibles showcasing beauty queen after beauty queen, each reigning over a different region of Puerto Rico or group in New York, and each wearing a glittering tiara. There were sororities and fraternities, floats advertising radio stations, and many — some spectators said too many — floats bearing the names of big companies: Colgate-Palmolive, Coca-Cola, Pepsi.

Wilson DeJesus, who said he had attended the parade each of his 45 years, said he pined for the days when the parade was marked by more tradition, and less of a corporate presence.

"It seems more promotional, and louder," he said. "Years ago, it was people coming from all around the country, entertaining us with the culture. Now, you don't see too much culture. It's the change of the times."

But stay home? Unthinkable. Mr. DeJesus arrived at 8:30 a.m. with his fiancée, Emily Feliciano, 30, and his three youngest daughters, Jasmine, 13; Stephanie, 10; and Elizabeth, 5.

"I want them to learn more of the culture," he said of the girls. "It's not just the parade, scream your lungs out. It's what's behind it."

Across Fifth Avenue, Cristina and Jolene Noriega, both 20, cousins from the Throgs Neck section of the Bronx, said they had no problem with promotional floats and loud music.

"They had good music, so it wasn't too bad," said Cristina.

"And they were giving out soda and chips," said Jolene.

Angel Ramos, 33, wore a Puerto Rican flag as a cape, and a bandanna decorated like the flag as a headband.

"The weather don't mean nothing to us," he said, speaking for his wife, Katherine Del Gado, and 1 1/2-year-old daughter, Crystal Ramos. "When it's time to party, we party."

A shimmering float passed by, and Mr. Ramos waved two flags in the air.

Aileen Maldonado, 35, came to the parade from the Bronx, with three of her six children. She said she had not planned to come this year, but "I felt sad for my kids. They really wanted to come."

With a flag painted on her cheek and her hair covered in a red, white and blue do-rag, Ms. Maldonado danced as floats passed by. "Last year was more rowdy, a lot of fights," she said. "This year is real nice."

In 2000, the energy on Fifth Avenue was overshadowed by what took place afterward in Central Park, where groups of young men prowled about, groping women, spraying them with water and tearing off their clothes.

Elizabeth Cardona, 20, a La Guardia Community College student from Brooklyn, said she had not been to the parade since then. "It was kind of bad, what happened," she said. "You never know if it's going to happen the next year."

Yesterday, Ms. Cardona was back, with her husband, mother, brothers, cousin and pet, a white Maltese named Bruno who wore a Puerto Rican flag like a cape. Early in the parade, she had only one complaint: there were too many people separating her from the action.

As of last night, a police spokesman said, there had been no major incidents connected with the parade.

Yolanda Rodriguez, 27, from Yonkers, brought her 6-year-old daughter, Cameisha Griffth. Cameisha has not yet been to Puerto Rico, where her mother's mother was born. But from her experience at the parade, she said, she knew what Puerto Rico would be like: "Fun."

"I like the cheerleaders," she said.

Booing Bloomberg, Cheering Pataki, And It's All In A Game Called Politics


June 9, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

Some people who booed Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg yesterday along the route of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade said they were angry that the subway fare had gone up. Others complained that the mayor was cutting education aid. Others were angry smokers.

Standard stuff, perhaps, but far different from the reception that Gov. George E. Pataki got as he marched up Fifth Avenue a few blocks behind the mayor. Mr. Pataki, after all, is arguably more responsible for many things Mr. Bloomberg was booed for. The governor controls the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which raised the transit fares. Mr. Pataki's budget proposal, which Mr. Bloomberg fought, would have forced far deeper cuts to New York City schools, had Albany lawmakers not refused to block it. And the governor signed a statewide smoking ban into law that is even tougher than the city's.

Yet Mr. Pataki was cheered wildly along the parade route.

The different reactions the two men got point to an iron truth of local politics. Mayors, who deliver day-to-day services and are constantly in the public eye, are magnets for criticism. Governors, who keep a lower profile doing dimly understood things more than 100 miles north of the city, often manage to escape the brunt of it.

"New Yorkers treat their mayors and their sports teams in the same way: they are targets for their praise and their abuse," said Mitchell Moss, the director of the Urban Research Center at New York University and an adviser to Mr. Bloomberg.

The mayor was applauded and cheered, too, but the boos were louder than usual. Mr. Bloomberg — who was heckled mercilessly by revelers outside stores like Henri Bendel and Saks Fifth Avenue, and even when he paused briefly outside St. Patrick's Cathedral — tried to make the best of it. "You get a handful of boos, and you get an awful lot of cheers," he told a television interviewer along the route.

Irene Marin, 24, shouted out that she longed for the return of Rudolph W. Giuliani, who was himself booed at National Puerto Rican Day parades when he was mayor. A mile north, Hector Retamar, 35, held a Puerto Rican flag in one hand and gave the mayor the thumbs-down sign with the other. "He's against the regular person," Mr. Retamar said.

The reaction was disheartening to some Bloomberg administration officials and advisers, who felt that Mr. Bloomberg had had a great week last week, making peace with the firefighters' union and backing away from many of his most unpopular proposed budget cuts in a bid to save city services. And it came days after he announced plans to woo the Latin Grammy Awards and other shows geared to Hispanic audiences to New York City. Mr. Bloomberg won 47 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2001, voter surveys showed.

The mayor's reception surprised some people who marched with him. "Apparently there's a lot of people who are not very happy with the decisions that have been taken," Ralph Morales, the chairman of the parade, said shortly after he finished marching with the mayor. "And he understands that he has to make some tough decisions, and this is part of his job. It goes with the job. He did get a lot of hugs and kisses along the way also."

When Mr. Pataki was asked about the cheers he got, the governor — who made the bombing in Vieques a major issue in his re-election campaign and who often addresses reporters in Spanish these days — said he was pleased.

"Well, I'm just very grateful for the tremendous friends I have in the Puerto Rican community who turned out today in large numbers," he said.

Plywood Up, Fifth Avenue Awaits A Parade


June 8, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE NEW YORK TIMES. All rights reserved.

One day a year the Upper East Side takes a deep breath and prepares itself.

Plywood goes up on buildings on Fifth Avenue. Thick sheets of plastic are hung around hedges. Mesh wire fences are erected around flowers. And the neighborhood sits and waits for the floats, the music, and the millions of people who arrive for today's National Puerto Rican Day Parade.

"You see Fifth Avenue? It looks like a hurricane's going to come," said a doorman who declined to give his name.

The majority of apartment buildings on Fifth Avenue from 62nd to 72nd Street were already boarded up yesterday afternoon with plywood, almost eight feet high. Many trees on the avenue's east side were also wrapped in plywood or wire fences.

Some doormen and superintendents, Puerto Ricans themselves, said it was insulting that the Upper East Side reacted like this. While the plywood and barriers had been put up for years, they said, more had gone up after more than 50 women were attacked in Central Park after the parade three years ago. "If you're going to put something, put it for all the parades," said Sam Rivera, a doorman at 860 Fifth Avenue.

But others who live and work here said that the barriers had less to do with racism and everything to do with the size of the event, and that the neighborhood had to protect its property. In one case, the plywood also protected people from sitting on ledges outside a building and falling back 20 feet into a courtyard.

The parade, which starts at 11 a.m. on Fifth Avenue at 44th Street and ends at 86th Street, draws millions of spectators and thousands of police officers. By two in the afternoon, trash cans are bulging, according to several porters on Fifth Avenue. They said that without the plywood, the soda cans, beer bottles and paper wrappers wind up in the bushes that decorate the exterior of most apartment buildings.

"I've seen the mess," said Tommy, a doorman at 912 Fifth Avenue who declined to give his last name. He added, "I even pulled out a Pamper one day" from the bushes in a year when the building did not put up plywood.

Tommy, who is Puerto Rican and has watched parades pass by for more than 30 years, said he did not blame the neighborhood for boarding itself up. After some parades, the building's greenery had been damaged, he said. "These bushes cost $10,000, $12,000 to put up," he said.

Some residents and doormen, though, said that the boards reflected the fear that lingered from the rampage of sex assaults in the southern end of Central Park in 2000. Eighteen men were later convicted or pleaded guilty in those attacks and were given sentences ranging from probation to five years in prison. A Police Department inquiry later accused two officers of disregarding complaints of victims and five supervisors of failing to properly deploy their officers.

At last year's parade, three people were arrested for groping and another 14 were arrested for disorderly conduct and assault.

Local residents emerging from between rows of plywood said that the Upper East Side did look a bit shabby as it awaited the vibrant colors and sounds of the parade. "While it's certainly not very welcoming, it is a necessity," said Ellen Fisher, a longtime Fifth Avenue resident, about the plywood on her building. "It's a matter of protecting the shrubbery."

Puerto Rican Day Can Pull the Heart Two Ways

By Devra B. Miller

June 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Newsday. All rights reserved.

'Gringa!" That's what I was called when I first moved to Puerto Rico 15 years ago. I had married a native whose retail business was on the island.

Before I knew it, I was standing behind a cash register in San Juan, greeting customers in my broken Spanish. The locals were patient with me; they knew by my fair skin, red hair and freckles that I was, obviously, not one of them. They appreciated the effort I was making to learn their language and settle into their neighborhood. I became known as the Puerto Rican Gringa. Ever since then, I have felt a connection with the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan. And that's where I plan to be Sunday.

Growing up in a sheltered suburban neighborhood, my only contact with Puerto Ricans was with the characters Morales from the Broadway musical "A Chorus Line" and Maria in "West Side Story." When I was a young girl, my mother used to refer to my colorful sense of style saying, "You're such a Puerto Rican!" Dressed in my favorite red-and-white striped tights, tie-dyed shirt, plaid pants and Mary Jane shoes, I took it as a compliment.

When I turned 18, I started dating my future husband, Joseph, and was fascinated by his unique background. His grandparents fled the czar and, after being turned away by U.S. immigration, resettled in Cuba. They started families and successful businesses there, only to be forced to run away, once again, this time from Fidel Castro's regime.

Joseph's parents and grandparents spent a few years in New York City, struggling financially and with the English language. They saw opportunities in underdeveloped Puerto Rico and moved there with many of their friends in the early 1960s. Joseph, born and raised in Puerto Rico, is proof that in just two generations, a Judaic-European background had transformed into a full Latin culture. Spanish is his mother tongue, and his food and music preferences and mannerisms are predominantly Hispanic.

I embraced their world. I gave birth to two sons, second-generation Puerto Ricans. I became a film critic for The San Juan Star, the only English daily newspaper on the island, and got involved with the Puerto Rican International Film Festival.

As a commonwealth resident, I was still an American citizen, but I forfeited my right to vote in U.S. elections. I relinquished my impatient New York attitude for a more tranquil Caribbean mentality. I learned to wait in long lines and endure bureaucracies. I became less outspoken and avoided making direct eye contact with male strangers. I grew accustomed to the confines of that tiny island, where rich and poor citizens live right on top of one another.

Ironically, over time, the same Latin culture that initially inspired me eventually wore me down within my marriage. The closeness of my husband's extended family, which I viewed as admirable, was often suffocating. Joseph's machismo, which at first seemed attractive, evolved into a nuisance and an obstacle to my career goals. I had grown up with a father who emphasized the equal role of women, both in and out of the house. Now, I was expected to be a subservient wife.

Ultimately, Joseph's and my cultural differences tore us apart. We wanted to raise our sons and run our lives by a completely different set of standards. After a nine-year marriage, we got divorced and I returned to my New Jersey roots.

Since I moved back to the States, though, I find myself seeking out Puerto Rican and Latino culture whenever possible. My hairdresser is Cuban, my bagel guy is Puerto Rican, and the only friends I've made at my country club are the Hispanic employees in the ladies' locker room. I crave Merengue and Salsa music, not to mention Puerto Rican cuisine. Calle Ocho, Patria, La Taza de Oro and Cuba Libre are just a few of the restaurants I run to for my rice-and-beans and plantain fix.

I have even made the ultimate sacrifice and allowed my sons to remain in Puerto Rico with their father, at their request. I appreciate the beautiful Puerto Rican community that nourishes them. It's like one big family, and I can't imagine a more nurturing upbringing for children. The year-round warm weather, palm trees and turquoise Caribbean Sea are also a plus.

I fly to Puerto Rico every two to three weeks to visit the boys. Each time my plane lands at Muñoz Marin airport and the passengers start clapping in unison, I feel nationalistic. I am constantly torn between my Puerto Rico and Manhattan islands, at home in both, but incomplete in either one.

Gringo, which I use with self-endearment, is often used as an offensive slang term for "American." It derives from the word griego, Latin for "Greek" or "foreign language," and has been adapted as a disparaging reference to an English-speaking person. My ex-husband told me it meant, "Green, go home," which the unwelcoming Puerto Rican residents, referring to the color of U.S. currency, shouted to their American occupiers a hundred years ago.

On June 8, this Gringa intends to go home, at least emotionally, with 3 million other spectators and marchers at New York City's National Puerto Rican Day Parade. I now know what it feels like to be divided between two homelands. I have become a true Nuyorican.

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