By: Gabriela Yareliz
It was early morning, and the sun hadn’t infiltrated the land in shadows below the midtown skyscrapers. Forty-second street to forty-ninth street was barricaded for no entry. I was passing Lord & Taylor, when I decided I would go in to use the restroom (the things that happen when you juice in the morning). When I walked in (with my sunglasses on), I failed to notice it was dark. There were chairs out for some makeup presentation. The guard stopped me as I was starting to walk toward the escalator. After my bathroom mission failed dramatically, I met up with groups of people in Puerto Rico jerseys and some wore the flag like a cape.
I was fortunate to meet a family. They were kind enough to let me stand “front row” with them (they had gotten to their spot at 6 a.m.). I chatted with the grandmother, abuela, of the family. The whole family had purple-red hair, slicked back and gelled into tight ponytails that induced a headache just by looking at them.
After the cops promised not to move the railing to let people in, in front of us, they lied and moved the rail. The entire family started throwing its belongings over our rail to the other area that would be the new “front row” area. I was going to stay where I was until the grandmother hurled herself over the railing and encouraged me to do the same. I looked at the police, who proved to be liars in that instance, and decided to join the family that had adopted me.
The area filled in quickly. At this parade, unlike the other cultural parades I have attended, people arrived half-naked. Crop tops, sports bras, shorts and mini skirts that seemed to be cheap (not because of the material but because of the lack of material). Women let cleavage show (no matter what the age) and even un-toned stomachs were flaunted without shame. The rule is: If you got it, show it. It doesn’t matter what it looks like. There is no demand for perfection. In fact, perfection is defined as a plush body, a full body, a displayed body. Men figured this was a good time as any to display their tattoos and tanned biceps.
Older men behind us sat on coolers and tried lighting cigars until an older woman beside me told them God would punish them by having the NYPD write them a ticket for smoking. How dare they smoke when there are kids around, she yelled. Later, I glanced at her phone while she swiped through her own photos. There was a photo of her with a cigar in her mouth. I didn’t have enough time to roll my eyes at the irony because a woman next to me, with her back turned to me was arguing with a co-worker on the phone, and like a good Latina, metia al fin, I decided to listen in.
“I can’t f—ing breathe. I am not comin’ to work–I am on my death bed and I can’t breathe right. So how dare you? F— you. I can’t breathe,” she said pausing. Then she looked up at the passing float and asked “Is that Luis Fonsi? Oh my gosh!” So much for pretending not to be at the parade. Mind you, there was music being blasted and people screaming and blowing horns. And she was on her death bed.
My attention was then drawn to the fact that I was crushed against the railing of the barricade (on my own death bed?) because a large man was trying to get his hands on a CD. He was leaning forward (crushing me) and insulting the man distributing the cheap demos, as if the insults would somehow draw the CD supplier with love and kindness to him. While I tried to turn around to face the annoying man to show him my angry glare, the old lady next to me seemed to be confused.
Her daughter kept telling her, “Mami, that is your favorite! Maria Celeste Arraras.” I looked up at the float and saw Maria Celeste with the Puerto Rican flag and a dress that spelled BLING-FABULOUS. I smiled as I saw the journalist I grew up watching on Primer Impacto. Two minutes later, the old lady turned around and asked where the journalist was. Her daughter was frustrated, “Mami, you didn’t see her? She was right there!” The old lady looked at me. I nodded in solidarity with the daughter. The old lady shrugged and smiled. Happy oblivion.
Some boxers walked by, making hooks and jabs at TV cameras. Show-offs. The parade had probably a thousand dancers, about 20 pageant winners from different places with tiaras and ridiculously high heels. One girl had a dress so short I could see things I didn’t want to see. She was walking as if twisting her ankles every other step. Only in a Puerto Rican parade do women decide to walk a good 30 blocks or so in heels that are 6-7 inches tall.
Rene, of Calle 13, was being honored as “king” of the parade. I feel like many did not notice when he walked by. People seemed oblivious in many parts of the parade. For example, there were parts of the parade that had no music. However, there was one part where a classy youth orchestra was playing what seemed like beautiful music. I can’t say for sure because people kept blowing their horns (the annoying horns used at graduations). Why couldn’t they let the music be heard?
The parade had its solemn moments. Latino officers from the NYPD marched. Also, in effigy, there was a representation of Puerto Rican intellectuals, judges and accomplished people. GOYA’s float was glittery and gold; one of the nicer floats. If it’s GOYA it has to be good. 😉
There was a skinny boy who looked half his age with over-plucked eyebrows and a P.R. bandana who would get interviewed by passing journalists because they thought he was small and adorable. His mom introduced a “friend” from work to her mom who did not seem amused to meet the man. This “friend” kept trying to cozy-up with her in the most awkward way. Her mother was fuming, and when she’d get really angry, she would start talking to me and start taking selfies. In the “friend’s” defense, he was caring with the little girl with us. He fanned her and tried to give her shade in the grueling heat.
I stood on Fifth Avenue for about three to four hours.
The Puerto Rican Day Parade probably had a million or more spectators. We lined Fifth Ave. like it was nobody’s business. The flag was everywhere. There were about three flags per person, not counting flag rings, flag earrings, flag bandanas, flag hats, flag jerseys and flag capes. Even though there were a lot of us, each block, each railed off section was a world, a family; and like good Puerto Ricans, we were all up in each other’s business.
The day was hot, like the passion inside of us. Standing there was like being surrounded by family, strangely. There is just something familiar about the way a Puerto Rican mother yells at her kid to get off the barricade so he won’t fall and “break his face.” She would yell the typical, “If you fall and break your teeth, I will finish it off because you are not listening to me!” Yeah. We all remember being told that. That is why we connect. No one looks at the mother like she is a child abuser (something many Americans would do because they often don’t understand the dynamic of a Latin mother). No, instead, we all look at the kid like, “You better listen to your madre or you’ll deserve what comes to you.”
This is why, maybe no matter how “global citizen” we may be, there is always a special connection to home.
For us, Puerto Ricans, I truly believe that when the beat drops, the heart synchronizes with the music that mixes with our blood like a drug; and we are one people; under one flag; with one star.