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Thousands flock to Fifth Avenue to celebrate Puerto Rican Day

Jaydden Garcia, 8, center, cheers as the annual

Jaydden Garcia, 8, center, cheers as the annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade makes its way up New York's Fifth Ave., Sunday, June 14, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of people turned out for the parade which celebrates the heritage and identity of Puerto Ricans living in New York. (AP Photo/Kevin Hagen) Photo Credit: AP / Kevin Hagen

A euphoric celebration of Puerto Rican heritage along Manhattan's Fifth Avenue Sunday reflected the island's strong sense of pride and identity.

It also was a statement of Puerto Rico's massive footprint in New York City.

The National Puerto Rican Day Parade was a six-hour, 35-block party complete with dancers wearing traditional costumes with full, flowing skirts; trucks blasting salsa, reggaeton and pop music; sports cars bearing beauty queens; and elaborately decorated, brilliantly colored floats.

Spectators formed a mass of fluttering blue, red and white flags, and airhorns sounded continuously. Organizers of the 58th annual march were expecting 2 million people to attend.

"We love our island," Sonia Rodriguez, 54, of Copiague, said of why such massive crowds gather each year.

Her sentiment spanned three generations. Rodriguez's daughter and granddaughter -- Jennifer Lopez, 27, and Adamaris Velazquez, 8, both also of Copiague -- stood alongside her, cheering.

"I love the music and the dancing and the dressing up," Adamaris said. "And plus, I love that people have pride and are so happy to be here."

Julio Rivera, 31, of the Bronx, said he has been coming to the parade since he was 2. The music sets the mood, he said.

"Que bonita bandera, es la bandera Puertorriquena," celebrants sang over and over again, about the flag's beauty. The pattern adorned shirts, sunglasses, straw hats, pendants and even boxing gloves that revelers wore along the route.

Puerto Rico's Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said he felt at home at the parade. "Puerto Ricans feel Puerto Rican wherever they go, and we are so proud of it," he said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was energized by the crowd.

"This is a community that over the last century has been one of the foundations of this city," he said.

New York City is home to the largest Puerto Rican community on the mainland, with about 720,000 residents of Puerto Rican descent.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who was born and raised on the island, made a statement by wearing a shirt that read, "Free Oscar Lopez Rivera now!" Many spectators at the march held signs with the same message.

Lopez Rivera is a Puerto Rican nationalist and member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, or FALN. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy and has been in federal prison for 33 years. Mark-Viverito has said he is behind bars because of his political beliefs and has never hurt anyone.


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