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Bushwick & the Puerto Rican Day Parade: Vibrancy in Expressions of Urban Vitality

In my neighborhood, Bushwick, Brooklyn, the Puerto Rican Day Parade is more than a celebration of heritage, it's both a raucous expression of the hopes and dreams of a community and an indictment against the conditions under which the poor live.

Photo of Johnny Falla
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Come to my neighborhood—right off the bat you’ll notice the bright flags and bumping music, Bushwick’s calling card. Every June though, following the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan, crowds of revelers fan out into my Brooklyn neighborhood for the wildest (and loudest!) after party of the year. This celebration itself has taken on a life all it’s own and could easily overwhelm anyone looking in from the outside. Fire hydrant sprinklers, street-side barbeques, flags draped from cars, fire escapes, storefronts and people—these provide the backdrop for a dance party that embodies a community's hopes, dreams, and its resilience and strength in the face of crushing poverty and social exclusion.

It’s not a solution to any of the problems facing the neighborhood, but it’s symbolic of the real dialogue taking place daily at the street level, where the tight bonds between people through shared experience enable rich moments like this to take place. It’s an important process for any community to go through. What you can build on top of the social fabric of the community, how you leverage the strength of the network, that’s is the real power of the parade celebrations. This is a working class holiday where the idea of social mobility and family ties keeps people here. This celebration meets people where they are and only asks that people bring their full selves to the party. It is a complicated event in the sense that it reflects what the community experiences from year to year. Everything from the weather to community relations with the police at the moment influence the mood and tenor of the street scene. Anything goes, anything can happen. 


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Photo of Ivan Torres

I see that this was written several years ago. Please allow me to congratulate you on an accurate depiction of our Neighborhood in Brooklyn. Bushwick to be exact. No not east williamsburg or any of the other gentrified names that the developers will have you believe. Your depiction of the bonds that we all share on that day is synonymous with the struggles our community has faced over the years. Sadly, people only hear about the negative moments that this celebration has had. They seem to focus on two events, and use that to discourage our communications with one another.
I remember when you could do things with pride, wearing the flag, honking your horn, waving the flag, chanting out with thousands of people in Bushwick who shared your pride. Now this has all come to a halt because of the ingenious use of media portrayal. Now, the roads get closed down by 7pm or 8pm (Knickerbocker ave especially), traffic is rerouted causing more traffic, and the passion that once lived and thrived in Bushwick during that day has simmered into a mere sizzle. People are given tickets for having too many flags on their cars, and the reasoning by the police is that it blocks your vision as a driver. I didn't know that placing flags on your rims, on your bumper or on your antenna would cause that.
People from the tristate area would come to Bushwick, to partake in the second portion of the parade as we called it. Cars draped with flags, music pumping salsa and reggaeton filling the streets. Bike riders running up and down Knickerbocker chanting "boriqua hasta la muerte" It was like a second parade, at any given moment, a car parade would take place, car clubs would manage the roads to create safe passage for pedestrians, while everyone in their car with a flag was a Puerto Rican, either by blood, by relation or by love.
Our voices were intentionally loud on that day, as to say we are here, we are not forgotten and we will always be here.
Now, the parade ends, not so many come to Bushwick to be a part of an age old tradition. I miss those days. Now with the planned gentrification, folks only want to enjoy the culture of our neighborhood for the purpose of tweeting and instagramming. Little do they know what our neighborhood endured to get it to this point.
The truth of the matter, is every year, this stream of red white and blue did not belong to the US flag, but instead belonged to Puerto Rico. It was a movement that slowly became nothing more than a movement that was roadblocked.
Bushwick has been my home from my Birth. And no matter how far I move away from here. My Heart will always be here. The memories of the parades in Bushwick will be some of my finest and funniest moments of my life. Thank you for such a wonderful depiction of what was once the highlight of Bushwick.

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