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A 42-Block-Long Party In Honor Of Puerto Rico

by Eric Lipton

June 12, 2000
Copyright © 2000 THE NEW YORK TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

Politicians and protesters vied for attention yesterday at the National Puerto Rican Day Parade. But there was no mistaking what drew the hundreds of thousands who jammed the sidewalks for a 42-block stretch of Fifth Avenue: a chance to be part of a high-spirited celebration of Puerto Rican culture, music and ethnic pride.

The celebration turned the Upper East Side into a undulating sea of red, white and blue Puerto Rican flags displayed on T-shirts, bandannas, nail polish, necklaces and even a cape worn by a dog.

Hillary Rodham Clinton and Representative Rick A. Lazio, New York's candidates for the United States Senate, were there, along with a long list of other state and local politicians. Hundreds of marchers and spectators held signs urging the United States Navy to stop using Vieques, a Puerto Rican island, as a bombing range.

Still others at the parade, which choked traffic from Midtown through the Upper East Side, rallied in memory of Pedro Albizu Campos, a figure in Puerto Rico's separatist movement who called for islanders to start an armed struggle against the United States.

But it was the dancers, the competing salsa and marching bands and the floats sponsored by towns and villages from Puerto Rico that drew the biggest roars from the crowds. So too did the various tributes to Tito Puente, the jazz musician of Puerto Rican heritage who died on May 31.

"It's about Puerto Rican people being together, proud of being Puerto Rican and celebrating our day," said Violet Colon, 49, from the Bronx. "I am just happy to be here, proud."

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani marched alongside Mr. Lazio, who replaced him last month as the Republican candidate for the Senate. Mrs. Clinton was escorted by Fernando Ferrer, the Bronx borough president, with whom she broke into dance at one point, as the two passed a 12-member salsa band.

Last Sunday, Mrs. Clinton was jeered and booed intensely as she marched up Fifth Avenue in the Salute to Israel Day Parade, in part because of her previous support for an independent Palestinian state. But yesterday, it was Mr. Giuliani who drew a symphony of boos and occasional rude gestures, evidence of his decline in popularity among the city's Hispanic population since first being elected mayor in 1993, particularly after a series of recent police shootings of unarmed men.

Mr. Giuliani seemed impervious to the often bitter response, rushing back and forth to the sidewalks to greet spectators even when he was being booed.

"It was a better reception than I usually get," said Mr. Giuliani, a reference to the heckling he had received at recent Puerto Rican Day Parades. "I think it is wonderful. I think more people applauded for me."

Mrs. Clinton clearly relished the turnaround that a week had brought.

"That is democracy in action," she said of the reversal from last Sunday. "We are so blessed to live in a country where everyone is free to express their opinion."

The parade -- which at times seemed to extend throughout much of Manhattan, with the streams of cars and motorcycles festooned with Puerto Rican flags -- illustrated the growing economic force of Latinos in the United States economy.

There were, of course, floats sponsored by traditional Latino-oriented products, like Café Bustelo coffee and Corona, the Mexican beer. But Showtime cable network was also there, promoting its new television series Resurrection Blvd., which features a Latino family in East Los Angeles. There were also floats sponsored by several Latino-oriented Internet sites, like and, as well as major retailers and consumer product companies like Sears and Colgate-Palmolive.

What most of these and other promotions had in common, though, was music, pulsating, rhythmic and loud, loud, loud, like the Mazola Corn Oil float, which feverishly rocked back and forth to the tunes of the Barrio Boyzz, in a performance that had the young girls in the crowd swooning. Actors Jimmy Smits and Rosie Perez also drew intense cheers, as did the boxer Felix Trinidad.

The parade was dedicated to both Vieques and to Pedro Albizu Campos, the onetime leader of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party who was imprisoned in the 1950's for trying to overthrow the United States government.

But it was the concern about Vieques that drew the most attention.

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