Hundreds of predominantly Hispanic marchers showed support for economically unstable Puerto Rico and ethnic unity Sunday afternoon in North Bay Shore.
“Are you kidding me? Puerto Rican solidarity is more important now than ever,” said Angel Paniagua, vice president of the Brentwood-based Puerto Rican Coalition for a Better Community.
The nonprofit is dedicated to improving education for children, and it was part of several groups and marchers in Sunday’s 50th annual Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade along Fifth Avenue.
“Puerto Rico right now is going through a very difficult time and its future is rough going. Us Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics got to get together to actually stand up for our rights,” Paniagua said.
The Puerto Rican government is attempting to restructure $70 billion worth of public debt it believes is unpayable.
Economic turmoil has plagued the U.S. territory for more than a decade, sparked in part by the 2006 expiration of tax credits to U.S. companies operating there that once fueled its economy but masked bigger problems.
More than 1 million New Yorkers are of Puerto Rican heritage, including nearly 90,000 Long Islanders, according to the Census Bureau.
“Right now important services are being cut and professionals are leaving, schools are closing and homelessness is increasing. Puerto Rico is bankrupt,” said Paniagua, 67. “We are Puerto Ricans. The public has to be aware of what’s going on. This is an emergency situation and we have to stick together.”
For others, the parade was a way to demonstrate ethnic solidarity on Long Island.
“It’s all about Hispanic pride,” said Julio Fuentes, 44, of Brentwood, who annually goes to the parade.
Samantha Adams, 24, of Central Islip brought her 3-year-old son to learn about his heritage.
“It’s an obligation. I have to show my support,” she said.
The parade’s 50-year milestone motivated Candido Crespo, 54, to attend.
“We are a growing community with a lot of Hispanics from different countries,” said Crespo, 54, also a member of Paniagua’s coalition.
“And this brings us all together to celebrate our heritage.”
Paniagua reiterated Hispanics must band together in their biggest time of need.
“We’re here to march for Puerto Rico. And if it rains out here, I don’t care, we’re gonna march,” he predicted.
And rain heavy it did around 12:30 p.m., forcing droves of onlookers to run for shelter.
But Paniagua’s prediction proved correct as unrelenting marchers, groups and organizations kept moving forward.
“Nobody is going to forget this,” said Moussa Kaba, 48, of those who continued walking. “The rain is a good sign. It’s a blessing.”