On an overcast Sunday, hundreds of thousands of people gathered on Fifth Avenue to express their love for la Isla del Encanto during the 61st annual Puerto Rican Day parade. With Puerto Rican flags waving everywhere, and an occasional rain that pattered onto the sidewalk and tree limbs, New York City felt as if it had been transformed into the Caribbean island, where one could sit on a relative’s porch and watch a passing storm. On Fifth Avenue, paradegoers sang traditional songs and danced. But the mood was somber too. Many had come not only to celebrate their heritage, but also to protest the deteriorating conditions in Puerto Rico that are a result of Hurricane Maria, and what they consider to be a lackadaisical response by the federal government to the catastrophe. Over the parade route’s thirty-plus city blocks, many held signs that simply read “4645,” a reference to a recent Harvard study that estimated the number of deaths from the hurricane. (The number 4,645 is actually the midpoint in a possible range of deaths; based on a sample survey, the study extrapolated that the death toll could be as low as 793 and as high as 8,498. The federal government’s official death tally, meanwhile, remains at 64.) With the country watching and Héctor Lavoe blaring from speakers, marchers with heavy hearts shared with fellow Americans the beautiful qualities of Puerto Rican heritage that Hurricane Maria couldn’t destroy. The hope is to bring awareness, and perhaps build a better understanding between the mainland and the island to create a more prosperous future. Que bonita bandera.
"First published in The Village Voice, 2018."