NEW YORK, NY -- A sea of red, white and blue flags, salsa music, colorful floats, dancers and hundreds of thousands of spectators filled New York’s 5th Avenue for the 2015 National Puerto Rican Day parade.
The parade is an annual tradition for New York’s large Puerto Rican community and for those who come from near and far to attend the event. It has a long history; the first parade took place in 1958 along El Barrio before its route changed to Fifth Avenue.
The parade unites the "boricuas" (named for the Indian name for the island, which was Borikén, later referred to as Borinquen) in New York and across the rest of the continental U.S. with those in the island.
Every year the parade honors a region of Puerto Rico, this year they are honoring Añasco, a municipality located on the west coast of the island.
The parade, which is known to bring out stars like Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, and Daddy Yankee, brought out Roselyn Sanchez, Ivy Queen, acclaimed orchestra composer Angel ‘Cucco’ Peña (who composed a theme song for the parade), Andres Jimenez, Rosie Perez, Martina Arroyo, Alex Sensation, Tito El Bambino, Toby Love, Frankie Negron and Raquel Sofia this year.
NBC-NY anchor Darlene Rodriguez was a parade ambassador one of the many proud "boricuas" participating in the event.
Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Oscar award-winning actress Rita Moreno was the Grand Marshall of the parade, and she stepped off her float to dance salsa with people on the street.
Broadway composer, playwright and actor and musician Lin Manuel Miranda ("In the Heights," and "Hamilton") received the parade’s “Nuestro Orgullo” award for his inspiring contributions to the American stage. Miranda and Sanchez also got off their floats to dance salsa together.
Many politicians were also in attendance. Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez walked along side Alejandro Garcia Padilla, Governor of Puerto Rico. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio was also out in support of the many Boricuas in his city.
The parade has gone through changes after its board was ousted last year over mishandling of funds. Lorraine Cortes-Vasquez, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade Board chair, said to the New York Daily News that "a chaotic situation either pulls people apart or it brings them together - in our case it brought people together."
This year the parade honored its Afro-boricua heritage honoring Sylvia del Villard and Arturo Schomburg.
This year's parade put a spotlight on several issues affecting the island. One is the environmental crisis for communities along the Caño Martín Peña in San Juan. The Caño, as it is also known, is a 3.75 mile long and 200 feet wide natural tidal channel. The clogging of the channel has led to constant flooding of water with fecal matter making it extremely dangerous for the residents living around it.
Parade officials have been strongly pushing a Change.org campaign that pleads the Congress to allocate $9.1 million on the 2016 budget to the United States Army Corps Engineers for the pre-construction Engineering and Design phase of the Caño Martín Peña Restoration Project.
Another issue that was raised by several public figures attending the parade - including the island's governor, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Parade Marshall Rita Moreno and "Jane The Virgin" actress Yvonne Coll - is the recent announcement that the federal government will cut by 11 percent the Medicare Advantage benefits in the island starting in 2016, even though the island commonwealth's federal healthcare funding rates are half of those in the U.S. mainland.
At the parade there were calls for the freedom of Puerto Rican nationalist Oscar Lopez Rivera, one of the leaders of the FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion National Puertorriqueña). Though López Rivera was never charged with participating in any terrorist or violent act nor of participating in any of the bombings associated with the group, he is serving a 75-year sentence, including over a decade in solitary confinement.