Wepa boricuas! An intimate, star-studded Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan

Puerto Rican colors flew again on the streets of Manhattan Sunday during the iconic parade after a one-year pandemic hiatus. However, to keep crowds at a minimum, the event took place at 8:45 a.m., with the proceedings televised later in the day.

Moving from its usual route on Fifth Avenue between 44th to 79th Streets, this year’s march began in East Harlem along 110th Street and 5th Avenue. The cultural celebration was a much smaller affair in comparison to previous years, yet what it lacked in numbers it made up for in spirit and star-studded attendees.

Marchers arrived waving Puerto Rican flags and decked out in red and blue to the hip-swaying beat of drums. Before the parade even set off, Bomba dancers entertained by whirling bellowing dresses.

Actor and playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda even got in on the action by showing off his moves alongside a dancer.

A man shows his Puerto Rican pride from head to toe. Photo by Dean Moses
Que bonita bandara! Photo by Dean Moses

Other notable attendees included NYPD’s top cop Commissioner Dermot Shea, Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Mayor Bill de Blasio who arrived brandishing flags of their own.

Flanked by a convoy of NYPD officers, the parade set off with the mayor and Lin-Manuel Miranda at the forefront of the banner while drum and tambourine players led the way. With the vaccine now in arms, masks came off and smiles could be seen, and cheers could be heard over the resounding music.

While the parade was loud and prideful it was also rather brief, coming to an end at El Museo del Barrio on 104th Street, where speakers such as de Blasio addressed a festive crowd, promising that 2022 would see the parade return to full force.

“This time it’s a small, little intimate celebration but next time it’s going to be a big, joyous celebration with all of us together again. We feel a lot of spirit right now because we feel our city coming back. We feel New York City getting strong again. We know this is going to be the summer of New York City, and one of the most powerful ways that we mark the summer of New York City, and the rebirth of New York City is with the emergence of one of the greatest films you’ve seen in a long, long time, ‘In the Heights,’” de Blasio said, adding, “This is the center of Puerto Rican culture, except for Puerto Rico itself.”

Lin-Manuel Miranda dances to drumbeats. Photo by Dean Moses

The mayor underscored the strength of the Puerto Rican people after several tumultuous years coping with Hurricane Maria, earthquakes, a financial and healthcare crisis, and the pandemic. He called out the United States government for not doing more for the Commonwealth, saying, “We have to stand up for Puerto Rico.”    

“Que viva Puerto Rico,” he shouted, before introducing Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona to the stage.

“Boricua!” Cardona exclaimed bringing his family along with him to address the audience, “I send greeting from the White House and entire team in Washington. I’m so honored to be here at this parade sharing this moment being here with my beautiful family and representing the Biden administration. It’s the most diverse presidential administration in the history of our country.”

The mayor stands alongside frontliners in the parade. Photo by Dean Moses
Music led the way. Photo by Dean Moses
Police commissioner Dermot Shea joins the fun by waving the flag. Photo by Dean Moses

Cardona shared that at one point in Puerto Rico’s history, the Ley de la Mordaza (Gag Law) was signed into effect on June 10, 1948, prohibiting owning or displaying the Puerto Rican flag. He stated that perhaps that is why now there is always a Puerto Rican flag within arm’s reach. He credits the struggles and perseverance of those who came before him, especially the sacrifices made by his ancestors who migrated to New York City to provide more opportunities for their children.

“Just two generations later, I am honored and humbled to serve as the 12th Secretary of Education for the United States,” Cardona said. “I always say now, my heritage is my superpower. Being bilingual and being bi-cultural, that’s my superpower and it’s yours too!”

Mayor de Blasio says the parade will return to full force next year. Photo by Dean Moses

Quiara Alegría Hudes, author of the book In the Heights, with collaborator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music and lyrics to the Broadway show and film In the Heights, served as Grand Marshalls of the Puerto Rican Day parade.  

“The pelicula (film) is what the parade is really like,” Miranda said in Spanish and English. “The power of community is what we have as Puerto Ricans here in New York and the United States and on the mainland.”

“Que bonita bandara,” he exclaimed to a crowd of cheers, which translates to “What a beautiful flag.”

The parade marched to 104th Street. Photo by Dean Moses
Police officers showed their pride and their dance moves. Photo by Dean Moses
Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. Photo by Dean Moses
Commissioner Shea joined fellow officers at the parade. Photo by Dean Moses
This officer led the way with the Island’s colors close to his chest. Photo by Dean Moses