Residents from 79th Street in North Bergen down to 31st Street in Union City gathered in droves along Bergenline Avenue awaiting a glimpse of some of their favorite guest stars, colorful floats, and dancers.
"We saw two TV stars," said Fadila Addaouki, 10. "We saw El Gordo y La Flaca and we were surprised because they had big bodyguards. We saw the mayor, and we saw the biggest horses in the world."
"The horses were cute with their fluffy feet," said Ferozan Ulfat, 10. "We've been to other parades before, but this is the best."
In a special appearance, the Budweiser Clydesdales led off the parade down the Miracle Mile.
"Mayor Albio Sires made it possible to get the Clydesdales this year, to go along with 13 floats and about 10 to 12 marching groups," said Emilio Del Valle, parade co-founder and president of the Latin American Kiwanis.
Brought back by popular demand were this year's grand marshals, Lili Estefan and Raul De Molina, co-hosts of the Univision gossip talk show El Gordo y La Flaca (The Fat Man and the Skinny Woman).
"I have been coming to the parade for the last seven years and I just love all the big name artists they manage to bring," said Janny Alvarez of Union City, who was enjoying the parade along with her family.
The tradition of the Cuban Day Parade in New Jersey was begun to honor the many contributions of Cuban-Americans to the local community and the nation, as well as celebrating their rich culture. However, the parade has become a more encompassing celebration of the vast Latin American community of North Hudson, who share this day with pride alongside their Cuban brothers and sisters.
Prior to the big event, the Kiwanis held their annual parade gala and star dedications at Celia Cruz Plaza.
Starting off the festivities on Wednesday, May 31, was a Golf Outing at the High Mountain Country Club in Franklin Lakes. Proceeds from the benefit were to go to the Cuban Day Parade Scholarship Fund, and brought out some well-known golf aficionados such as Roberto Clemente Jr. and Michael Mays, son of baseball legend Willie Mays.
"It's out first annual golf tournament to raise funds for the scholarships, the Kiwanis and the Cuban Day Parade Committee," said Del Valle.
Attending the benefit were members among the parade's 75 sponsors, which include Café Bustelo, Budweiser, and local radio stations including Radio Wado and La Mega. Corporations paid up to $1,500 per groups of four to participate.
"We had some dignitaries that showed up as well, and there were raffles and gift baskets from sponsors for the participants," said Del Valle. "There was also an $30,000 Hole in One cash prize."
The following Thursday, members of the Kiwanis and fans from all over North Hudson came to celebrate some of their favorite stars including renowned bass player Israel "Cachao" Lopez, the King Merengue Joseito Mateo, and the reigning Princess of Salsa La India.
"This is something for the history books, and from the bottom of my heart, I am very proud to receive this honor here, in this land that I love so much," said Cachao.
For La India this was also a very proud moment to be honored in the plaza dedicated to her Godmother and among the community she at one time called home.
"I lived in Cliffside Park near Bergenline Avenue, and I love being among this community of people who are so humble," said India. "I feel very privileged [to have a star in Celia Cruz Plaza] because she was so good to me and took care of me. She opened the doors for many artists like myself and Marc Anthony, and was the first person to tell me that I had talent and that I could do this. I miss her very much, but I know she is with us."
A new mural of Celia Cruz was also unveiled, which was built by Luis Montalvo, and the three honorees sang a special tribute to the late Queen of Salsa.
There was also a star dedicated to the legendary late Beny Moré, and a special appearance by Johnny Pacheco, who was a recipient of a star last year at Celia Cruz Plaza, but was unable to attend.
Rounding off the festivities before the parade was the annual gala dinner, where awards and distinctions are given out to the Cuban Parade honorees. They included Godfather of the Parade Rafael Pineda, who anchors the evening news for Univision, Godmother Odalys Molina, who co-anchors the news for Telemundo, and Dominican native Frederick "El Pacha" Martinez, who was dubbed International Godfather of the Parade.
El Pacha has become one of the most recognized Spanish TV personalities and awards presenters in the tri-state area.
Receiving additional honors that night was Israel "Cachao" Lopez, as Musician of the Year, and Joseito Mateo, as the International Grand Marshal. Commissioner Lucio Fernandez was also honored Personality of the Year.
Gray skies but high spirits
Although there were only brief moments of sunshine, patrons of the parade lit up the avenue with smiles and cheers as 13 colorful floats made their way down the avenue.
"This is magnificent; I am here with my wife and my friends just having the time of out lives," said Roberto Perez of Union City.
Ending ceremonies were concluded at 31st Street across the way from Celia Cruz Plaza around 7:30 p.m.