Puerto Rican/Hispanic Parade Reception Shows the Strength of Unity and Cultural Pride

By: Miya Jones
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Puerto Rican/Hispanic Parade Reception Shows the Strength of Unity and Cultural Pride

Every other day, a new incident of racial discrimination is being filmed and displayed on social media further showing the division that still exists in this country. The recent arrest of 30 undocumented immigrants in New York, including several Long Island communities, has revealed this schism on Long Island, which makes some feel as though they are not welcomed.

“As a Latina on Long Island now, there is tension that you feel every now and then,” said Dorothy Santana of Latina Moms of Long Island. “That’s why these events are super important because the divisiveness in the political realm and the media is filtering out into our communities.”

The event Santana was referring to was the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade Reception. The event, hosted by Latina Moms of Long Island and Teatro Yerbabruja, was an opportunity for the parade honorees and attendees to get together and be honored in a more intimate setting. The event was also an opportunity to fundraise, kick off the parade and highlight Latino heritage.

“We’re putting our culture on a pedestal and shining unapologetically,” said Mariana Lima, who is a multi-disciplinary artist and member of Teatro Yerbabruja. She’s also the daughter of the organization’s founder. “Doing this in today’s political climate takes courage, so we’ve just gotta keep on keepin’ on.”

Spoken word artist Christopher “Chilo” Cajigas was able to deliver a powerful message about the kind of resilience and optimism needed to push forward during his performance.

The history of this in America is long and ugly, and we’ve unfortunately seen a resurgence of bold public displays of bigotry.

“People are feeling like they don’t want to speak Spanish in public, because they feel they will be ridiculed or called out,” said Santana.

In the past few years, incidents like when New York Lawyer Aaron Schlossberg yelled at employees for speaking Spanish in a cafe, or when a Dallas woman threatened to call ICE on food truck vendors selling tacos, are commonly filmed and have caused some to dim down their cultural pride.

“Something I see, especially in the second generation, is that they don’t know the culture or are not proud of the language, because the space isn’t created to celebrate it, especially on Long Island,” said Margarita Espada, who is the founder and executive and artistic director of Teatro Yerababruja.

During his speech at the reception, Brentwood high school senior Richard Ortiz said that he felt that disconnection from his culture, but eventually he was able to embrace it.

The Queen of the parade, Bay Shore high school senior Daniela Diaz, also embraces her heritage as well claiming that nothing will ever erase Latinos from American history.

“A president who has a bias agenda can’t really stop what we’ve done and what we’ve already brought to this country,” said Diaz.

She has contributed by embracing her bilingual skills and becoming a designated translator for students in her school and at Southside Hospital. Giving back to those in need was another major theme touched on during the reception.

One effort that was discussed in particular was relief for the citizens of Puerto Rico after the devastation brought by Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

“It was something I’d never experienced before,” said Lima who was there during both hurricanes. She was stuck at her grandmother’s house in the mountains for two weeks after. “Afterwards, the struggle really began because when we could finally get out of our houses, we realized that everything was destroyed.”

Lima said that the government did not step in the way that some people hoped they would.

“The way we got through it was together,” said Lima. “We found strength in each other.”

One of the honorees, Luis Nicho, who has a non-profit called Nuestro Ideal, has worked on the ground with educators and local farmers in Puerto Rico to help create self-sustaining solutions. Teatro Yerababruja also helped by creating a campaign called Island to Island and through this effort they were able to donate a $15,000 to Nicho’s organization during the reception.

“We wanted to make sure all the support went hand to hand without the government in between,” said Espada. “I didn’t want to rush. I wanted to make sure that it went to the right organization.”

The reception was able to give a preview of what’s to come for the parade. It highlighted and celebrated culture, and showed how people can stand together despite divisiveness or seemingly hopeless circumstances.

The parade will be on Sunday, June 2 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Brentwood on 5th Ave. It is advised that you get there early because there will be around 50,000 attendees.

For the full list of honorees look below:

Renee Ortiz – Grand Marshall

Sgt. Jose Nuñez – Presidential Award

Luis Nicho – Nilda Alvarez Social Justice Award

Long Island Language Advocates Coalition – Sandra Gil Advocacy Award

Cheryl Keshner – Coordinator

Daniela Diaz – Queen of the Parade

Richard Ortiz – King of the Parade

Miya Jones

Miya Jones

Miya Jones is a Long Island native and the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Shades of Long Island. She's been a journalist since the age of 17 and is a diversity advocate. Follow Miya on Instagram and Twitter: @miyajones1996 and on Facebook as Miya Jones.

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