“They helped build this community,” said Mayor Steven Fulop during the annual flag raising ceremony at city hall on Aug. 14, marking the start of a week of festivities that will culminate in the Puerto Rican parade and festival on Aug. 20.
Lilia R. Diaz, executive director of Jersey City Puerto Rican Heritage Arts and Culture, said the flag raising is significant because they were not always allowed to fly the flag in the United States.
“In 1948, a law was passed making it illegal to fly a flag other than the American flag,” she said. “The law was repealed in 1957.”
But she said Puerto Rico and the United States have always stood together united.
The Jersey City Puerto Rican Parade is one of the longest running in the nation.
Juan Cartagena, executive director of Latino Justice and co-founder of Seguanda Quimbama, is this year’s grand marshal for the parade.
“We worked really hard here, sent money home so that the next generation could come. We chose to live here.” – Juan Cartagena
Councilman Daniel Rivera described Cartagena as an activist for Puerto Rican issues who is in a class by himself.
Cartagena, who received a standing ovation when introduced at the flag raising, prided himself at being born in Jersey City, and described the Puerto Ricans who moved to Jersey City over the long years as “hard working working class people” in a tradition shared by Irish and African Americans.
“We worked really hard here, sent money home so that the next generation could come,” he said. “We chose to live here.”
Cartagena said historically, Puerto Rico has had strong ties with other Caribbean nations such as Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic especially in regards to culture and food. So there are ties between these communities.
More than fifty years old
The parade, Cartagena said, got its start in 1961 when a group of Puerto Ricans – Rafael Rodriguez, Diego Berrios, Juan Benitez, Primitivo Valle, Rafael Bou and Santiago Bonilla – saw a need for cultural identification and organized the first Puerto Rican Day Parade in Jersey City.
As a sample of some of the colorful acts that will be featured at the parade starting in Lincoln Park at noon on Aug. 20, a guest dance performance and a Princess Court Crowning ceremony showed what some of the kids could do, dancing and prancing through a packed city council chambers in a variety of dance moves.
While food and culture are among some of the contributions to the diversity of the city, Fulop said Puerto Ricans are also historically involved in government and in civic duties. Both deputy mayors are of Puerto Rican heritage, as are many in various departments through the city.
“They are in these positions because they are very qualified and exceptional people,” Fulop said
During the annual festival, such people are honored by the parade committee with individuals from the police, fire, sheriffs and correctional departments given recognition. The committee also honors an emergency medical technician of the year, local business people, advocates, even a postman, crossing guard, veteran and others.
This year – only for the second time in its 57 year history – the parade will recognize an LGBT Advocate of the year, Eddie Baez, who will march in the parade.
“I thought this was the first time,” Baez said. “But apparently someone marched in the parade in 2006.”
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.