Last Sunday, June 5, brought a magnificent spectacle of vibrant color and music with 13 floats riding down the avenue. Among the favorite big name sponsors were Bustelo Coffee, Coca Cola, Univision 41, Telemundo, Radio WADO, and La Kalle 105.9, formerly Latino Mix.
"I've been coming here for the last three years, and it's always a great mix of all cultures," said Juan Contreras, 56, Bronx, N.Y. "It's just a beautiful event, and I love the atmosphere."
The celebration, however, had been taking place since the previous Thursday with some preliminary festivities, including the induction of three more stars at Celia Cruz Park, the annual awards gala, and a "Night in Tropicana."
Kicking off the celebration
Starting off with a special dedication ceremony in Union City on Thursday, June 2, musical legends Johnny Pacheco and Tito Puente, and renowned news anchor for Univision 41, Rafael Pineda, had stars placed on the ground in Celia Cruz Park by Mayor Brian Stack and the Board of Commissioners, the Celia Cruz Park Committee, and the Latin American Kiwanis Club.
Celia Cruz Park was just opened the prior summer with the very first star was dedicated to the Queen of Salsa. Then, on Friday, guests were invited Crown Plaza Hotel in Secaucus for the Cuban Parade's annual gala, where the parade committee honored the 2005 dignitaries of the parade, which included this year's Grand Marshal Javier Romero, co-host of the internationally successful variety show "Sabado Gigante" (Gigantic Saturday) on Univision.
"This is my first time participating in the Cuban Day Parade of New Jersey," said Romero. "This is an honor and a responsibility, and I feel great being a part of it. It's also nice to meet those people who always watch you on TV and care so much for you."
Other widely recognizable and respected figures in the Hispanic community being honored that night, just to name a few, included Rafael Pineda of Univision 41, parade godfather; Dr. Ana Maria Polo of Telemundo 47, parade godmother; and the 2005 Parade President Dr. Manuel Ignacio Rico, radio personality on Radio WADO for the program "Salud en Cuerpo y Alma, and the son of the illustrious late Dr. Rico Perez.
"For me it is a great honor to represent the president position of the parade this year," said Rico. "My father always instilled in me the importance of our roots and cultural history in this country, and will continue to pass along that Cuban heritage professionally, socially, and to my daughters."
Also at the gala event, the Latin American Kiwanis Club, McDonalds (HACER), and Univision 41 gave $7,000 in scholarships to four deserving local Hispanic students.
A night at the Tropicana
On Saturday before the parade, the Latin American Kiwanis Club hosted one final event before the parade, and brought spectators to the dazzling world of the best known Cabaret across the globe with "Noche en Tropicana" (Night in Tropicana) at the Ritz Theatre in Elizabeth.
The Tropicana was old time Havana's best and brightest night spot, and tourists from all over the world would flock to its doors. "Noche en Tropicana" brought back that old time flare, reminiscent of what was known as "Paradise under the stars" with a vibrant display of colorful lights and costumes, comedy, and dance numbers to some of the most vivacious and pulsating sounds of the Caribbean.
The cast of over 50 featured La Kalle 105.9 FM personality Douglas Pena, master of ceremonies; Alberto Morgan, original Tropicana headliner; Pedro Domech, Tropicana singer and dancer, Lucio Fernandez, Broadway actor/singer and deputy of Public Affairs in Union City, and Azuquita, among others.
The show also featured the Union City Orchestra under the direction of Kennedy Ng, the Tropiquette Dancers, the Karisma Dancers, Los Guaracheros de Cuba, and the comedy antics of Fru Fru International.
On Sunday, about 350,000 to 375,000 spectators gathered along the length of Bergenline Avenue for the 2005 Cuban Day Parade of New Jersey, which was set to begin at 4:30 p.m. The previous year the parade, which continues to grow every year, had brought out about 250,000 people to the event.
The parade also brought out some of North Hudson's prominent political figures such as Rep. Robert Menendez, Assembly Speaker and West New York Mayor Albio Sires, Assemblyman and Mayor of Union City Brian Stack, and members of the Board of Commissioners from both towns.
People were dancing in the streets as the 13 floats from various sponsors brought a spectacle of folkloric groups, comparsa dancers, and plenty of music.
"This is my second year here with my queens at the Cuban Day Parade of New Jersey, and it has been a wonderful experience," said Karen Cruz-Carillo, coordinator of Real Latinas sponsored by Coca Cola, who brought the 2005 Ms. Coca Cola, Jasmine Eusebio, and Ms. Fanta, Yadira Clemente, to participate in the parade. "There is so much to learn about the Cuban heritage, which is so beautiful," said Carillo.
The event culminated on 32nd Street in front of Celia Cruz Park with a few words by the parade's founders, Emilio Del Valle, Sergio Gatria, Eugenio Vazquez, and by the parade honorees, who also included the International Godfather Pedro Luis 'El Vacan' of Telemundo 47, International Godmother Liliana Ayenda of La Kalle 105.9 FM, and the year's Humanitarian awardee, Max Rodriguez, special assistant county clerk of Hempstead, Long Island.
"It was a beautiful event and very well organized," said Teresa Suarez, 53, Union City. "I've been coming every year, and it is even better this year."