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The Allentown Morning Call
Residents Revive Puerto Rican Parade
New Organization Changes Name, Venue Of Bethlehem Event
By Kevin Pentn Of The Morning Call
June 15, 2003
Jeanne Negrn recalls feeling a tinge of sadness when she brought her Uncle Miguel Marrero, a former Bethlehem resident who had moved to Puerto Rico 20 years ago, to the city's parade in honor of the Caribbean island last year.
Marrero, 64, one of the first Puerto Ricans to work at Bethlehem Steel and the co-founder of several of the community's civic organizations, had worked to get the parade and an accompanying festival off the ground.
Several decades later, there was only one float riding along Fourth Street, and the festival that in her youth had seemed to gather the entire Puerto Rican community together was nonexistent, canceled at the last minute because of lack of organization.
Negrn and her husband, Elvin Garca, a structural engineer for the state Department of Transportation, believed the South Side's Puerto Rican community deserved better, and committed themselves and a large group of volunteers to help make this year's event something everyone could be proud of. They helped form the Puerto Rican Cultural Coalition.
"After all the years that he had been away, it was kind of sad that we hadn't grown bigger," said Negrn, 32, who works for an after-school program in the Bethlehem Area School District.
The June 28 parade's floats have grown to eight this year. For months, volunteers have been organizing the festival, now called Borinquenfest. The title comes from the name native Taino Indians originally called Puerto Rico. The venue shifts from Saucon Park, where it had been held for 16 years, to the Hill-to-Hill Bridge area where Musikfest is staged.
Organizers plan to symbolically direct the parade across the Fahy Bridge to the north side, climbing a hill before hoisting the Puerto Rican flag atop a pole at City Hall.
The larger parade, the flag-raising and the festival's new venue and name all are part of an effort by the coalition to galvanize the city's Latino community and educate it and the rest of the city about the island's culture, said Garca, the group's president.
"We applaud the elders who came before us and did so much with so little resources," said Garca, 36, who plans to pass the leadership role to someone else next year. "But it is time for a new generation of leaders to rise up and take care of our community."
City officials have helped the group take security and logistical steps to help prevent incidents that have marred other Valley Puerto Rican parades, including motorists screeching their tires or illegally driving onto the parade route.
"I think it's going to be a great use of that space," said Tony Hanna, the city's director of community and economic development, referring to the Musikfest site.
Organizers had debated whether to hold the festival again at Saucon Park, said Olga Negrn, the group's secretary who is in charge of booking musical acts, but selected a more central location the city's non-Latino population might find easier.
"If it's a tradition to have all the city's festivals there, they why not us?" Negrn said. "We are not just a corner of the city, and we should not have our biggest festival in one."
Jeanne Negrn, the group's treasurer, raised more than $20,000 from a variety of sponsors for the festival, which will feature eight performers of traditional and popular salsa music, 22 food and merchandise vendors and a museum of Puerto Rican artifacts and crafts.
Garca hopes the museum in particular will be a jump-off point for the organization, which recently obtained nonprofit status, as it concentrates on youth self-esteem building through programs on musical instruction, drug prevention and career shadowing.
"The main focus is education, it's not only going to be the fiesta," said Garca, who envisions opening a new South Side community center within the next couple of years. "We all have so many ideas, who knows what we'll do? The need is so strong for our kids, and I hope we can meet that."