Thousands of spectators lined Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on Sunday for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade — a 61-year tradition honoring the U.S. territory but clouded this year by still-raw emotions over the federal response to Hurricane Maria.
Many along the parade route waved flags and wore hats and clothes to show their Puerto Rican pride. Onlookers cheered as marching bands, floats, politicians and other public officials made their way along Fifth Avenue to the Upper East Side along the edge of Central Park.
When the parade grand marshal, actor and Brooklyn native Esai Morales, strode by waving to the crowd, several waved back, screamed and blew him kisses.
Despite the festive mood, many of those who turned out for the procession were still thinking about relatives and loved ones whose lives were forever changed after Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in September.
“What happened with the hurricane, a lot more people wanted to be here and show their support,” said Alan Concha, 28, a diamond setter from Jackson Heights. “It’s our way of giving support. It shows there are people in New York City that care.”
A large, visible police presence was in the area Sunday, not only for the parade but for Sunday night’s Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall. But police reported no incidents or arrests and some officers smiled for photographs and joked with celebrants along the route.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and members of the New York City Council joined the marchers.
The governor called Sunday’s celebrations bittersweet because “on one hand we are celebrating Puerto Rico . . . on the other hand the suffering, the pain in Puerto Rico goes on. It was unjustified. There was a total disrespect and disregard by this federal government. They didn’t even know how many lives were lost.”
A May study by the New England Journal of Medicine estimated the death toll from Hurricane Maria to be 4,645. The federal government’s official count is 64.
He added the state will send relief efforts to help the island rebuild and fortify its infrastructure this summer and he will be taking trips there to help out.
Several marchers held up posters emblazoned with “4,645,” the number a Harvard University study estimated died in the storm despite the federal government’s estimate.
Other marchers chanted “shame” and “shame on you” at Trump Tower as they walked by.
Sunday’s crowd along the route of the parade, which began on Fifth Avenue in midtown and continued north to the Upper East Side near Central Park, seemed larger this year, said Hempstead resident Wendy Brown, 34, a native of Puerto Rico who came to New York when she was 5.
“It’s important to enlighten other cultures about Puerto Ricans in New York,” Brown said. “I think the crowd is a little larger today than usual because of the hurricane. Everyone has come together for the hurricane.”
With Alison Fox and Ivan Pereira