Hartford’s Puerto Rican Parade is five weeks away, but those working behind the scenes have been busy planning it since last year. For many of these volunteers, it’s not only a labor of love – but like the people lining the streets of Hartford for the parade, flags waving proudly in hand – the day is a celebration of their unique heritage. It is a chance to step back from the immersion into American culture to share the food, the music and the traditions that are so implicit for residents with Puerto Rican roots.
To make such a special day a success takes much planning and more work than Sammy Vega, first-year President of the Connecticut Institute for Community Development – Puerto Rican Parade, Inc. Hartford Chapter, could have imagined. “I had no idea how much work it was!” he laughed.
This year’s theme, “Tradición Boricua, Evolución Latina”, is all about celebrating Puerto Rican and Latino culture and keeping traditions alive within second- and third-generation Latinos.
Celebrating their Puerto Rican heritage through the parade and festival is especially important for the younger generations, he said.
In honor of celebrating not only Puerto Rico’s diversity, but of all Latinos, two grand marshals will be selected for the parade. One will be from Puerto Rico and the other will be a Latino from another country.
Vega said it is not the pomp and circumstance of the parade or the famous performers during the festival that he looks forward to most, but rather experiencing families get together and seeing the pride in where they’re from.
“I look forward to seeing not only the Puerto Rican flag, but the Mexican, Peruvian, the U.S. . . all of them flying together.”
To prepare for the parade, now in its fourth year, and the sixth annual Festival del Coqui, which follows the parade in Bushnell Park, organizers started last September coordinating events, recruiting sponsors and encouraging residents to volunteer.
So far the work is paying off, with the parade garnering several local and community sponsors and more than 100 units scheduled to march, with hundreds going by on floats and in marching bands. The numbers are up from the 70 units in last year’s parade.
This year, organizers are increasing their efforts for the festival, bringing in bigger name acts rather than local performers as they have in the past, as well as targeting events that are family friendly.
Vega said bringing in names like Tony Vega, Michael Stuart, Toby Love and Shorty C were an attempt to bring a mix of generations to the festival and cater to all ages. Last year, Vega said between 10,000 to 15,000 people attended the festivities. This year, he expects the turnout to be double that.
The parade is an institution in Puerto Rican and Latino culture in Connecticut. However, when the state parade, which would alternate between New Haven and Hartford, dissolved several years ago, the parade’s Hartford chapter decided to pick up the slack.
“We didn’t want the parade to die,” Vega said. The Hartford parade is followed a month later by the Puerto Rican Parade of Fairfield County later in July.
For Vega, the day is also a chance to give back to Hartford as a way to say “Thank you” for all it does for the Puerto Rican community. Vega, who was born in the city, credits Hartford for welcoming him, as well as his parents, who came to the country from Puerto Rico. “The state gave our family a chance to live. It’s not only about keeping tradition alive, but also about giving the city a ‘thank you’ for adopting us. Not just Puerto Ricans, but the Latino community.”
However, the main event is not the only way the organizers give back to the city. “We’ve been having family events, bowling tournaments; we want to let the public know it’s not just the parade and festival,” Vega said. “We just want to give back.”
On Saturday, May 11, they plan to have 100 volunteers come and clear the streets for the parade route. The clean up is just one more way to come together as a community, he said.
The community has been proactive about coming together, from local and community sponsors to residents who just want to volunteer and become involved. Parade-goers are already anticipating and showing enthusiasm for the day’s events, he said.
“They’re excited, it’s expected every year. . . It’s important to keep our culture and where we came from alive.”
The parade steps off at 12 p.m. on Sunday, June 2 in Hartford, followed immediately by the festival from 2-8 p.m. at the Bushnell Park Pavilion.