Puerto Rican Day Parade draws thousands to Manhattan

Revelers cheer and wave flags along 5th Avenue

Revelers cheer and wave flags along 5th Avenue during the 57th Annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan on Sunday, June 8, 2014. (Credit: Charles Eckert)

The 57th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade delivered a wave of pride, pulsating music and marchers who shook up Fifth Avenue celebrating their heritage -- along with thousands cheering along the way.

"I have not missed a year," said Gladys Leon, 59, of Castle Hill, Bronx. "I came in 1957 when I was little girl. I love it. I never get tired of coming."

Leon said she meets Omar Muhammad, 47, and his family from Montrose in Westchester County each year in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral.

"I'm a Gulf War veteran and I came to give my support," said Muhammad, whose son-in-law is Puerto Rican. "This is all about family unity. Not only my own family but everyone."

More than 10,000 marched, representing the armed forces, city and state law-enforcement agencies and Puerto Rico's noted cultural and arts societies.

Sonia Acosta, 60, of Brooklyn, said she comes to the parade because it "makes me happy to see my culture. Being here today helps me forget about life's problems."

Special recognition was made of the 65th Infantry Regiment from Puerto Rico, which was the largest segregated Latino military unit to fight in both world wars as well as Korea. The unit will receive a Congressional Gold Medal from President Barack Obama this week. It is the highest award ever given to Latino veterans.

"The infantry was a segregated military unit that has been overlooked far too long," said parade participant Javier Morales, who served in the Vietnam War and is president of the 65 Infantry Veterans Association in Puerto Rico.

"I am a proud person and believe in my heritage. It tells me who I am," said New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Katherine Otero, 32, who marched in the parade and whose uncle belonged to the regiment and served in the Korean War.

Keeping with tradition, the parade hosted a list of star celebrities, including Luis Fonsi, Latin Grammy-winning singer and composer, and actress Rosie Perez, who was parade queen.

It also was a special day for grand marshal and City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who is the first Latina to hold the council speaker's office.

"I'm very proud to be the first Puerto Rican in this position that can celebrate this day as well," she said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio marched with the parade but had no comment. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who also walked along Fifth Avenue, said he always enjoys the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

"It's one of my favorites," the governor said. "There's a lot of energy, there's a lot of excitement. What the parades do is they say to that community, 'This is your day. Today we recognize you.' "

With Emily Ngo

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