The origin of the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade is somewhat of a legend, passed down through parade organizers.
As the story goes, when Hurricane Hugo struck Puerto Rico in 1989, nearly 28,000 people were left homeless and damages exceeded one billion dollars. Thousands of miles away, a group of local residents in the city of Springfield gathered with the hope of assisting their brothers and sisters.
“Something strange happened in our hearts and we realized we were one community divided by water,” Gumersindo Gomez (parade founding member) told parade organizing protégé, Lucila J. Santana, in 2010.
With the desire of raising the spirits of local residents within the Puerto Rican community, establishing a sense of pride, and having the contributions of the Puerto Rican community be recognized across the board, a contingency of Springfield residents presented a petition to the state to raise the Puerto Rican flag in city halls within the Commonwealth. Governor Michael Dukakis approved this petition, and the city of Springfield held its very first raising of the Puerto Rican flag on November 19, 1989. During this event it was announced that the city would have its first Puerto Rican Parade the following year.
This celebration coincided with “El Mes de la Puertorriqueñidad,” Puerto Rican Heritage Month celebrated in Puerto Rico.
Over the years the parade has grown exponentially. Santana, now part of the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade Planning Team and Springfield Public Schools Public Relations Coordinator, says that this year’s parade was tremendously successful and that: “It was certainly historical.”
An estimated 6,000 people gathered to watch this year’s parade. Over 120 marching contingencies signed up to march, more than any in preceding years, and each group numbered anywhere from 20 to 250 participants. Participants flocked from as far as Boston and New York. And there were more floats than ever before.
This is the second year the Parade Planning Team–a group of relatively young professionals from the area who volunteer their time—have organized the parade. Last year, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center passed on the baton to the team. According to Santana, the team deeply cares about the community and works year round to organize the parade.
With the current economic struggle in Puerto Rico, this year’s parade marked a significant and much needed cultural coming together by a “community divided by water.”
“We know how important it is to celebrate our culture,” says Santana, “to educate others about where we come from, who we are and where we are going.”
The payoff, she says, is: “Seeing how many families gathered on Main Street, and how excited and proud of their heritage they were…that gives us a feeling that is simply indescribable and the fuel to go on to plan next year’s parade.”
Among the most memorable participants this year, says Santana, was Obanilú Iré Allende of Siembra Maestra, who brought the folkloric rhythm from “our ancestors.”
Allende says the economic struggle happening in Puerto Rico saddens him, but that events like the Puerto Rican Parade stand as a symbol of a cultural moving forward.
“Puerto Rico is copying and pasting what other people are doing, and we didn’t need to be in this space,” says Allende. “I think a lot can be offered from the American society moving forward, but I think we just got a little off track and became focused on getting and making the cash. And I think that’s good to a certain extent, but it has its limits.
“[This parade] is about culture, it’s about our dances and cultural expressions, our heroes and putting them forward, who they are and who they were, and what they represent. We haven’t been paying attention to our greats, our heroes and the teachings for our future. This parade, and parades like this, help us do that. It shows us that we can be grateful for all the good these things represent in our culture.”
As a Puerto Rican herself, Santana says the news of poverty in Puerto Rico saddens her a great deal as well.
“Our families live in Puerto Rico and we know their struggles,” says Santana. “I read the news every day and it makes me feel powerless. We love our island, we know the potential it has, but sometimes we have to do what is best for our families. My parents moved here 11 years ago looking for better opportunities.
“This parade sends a message of hope. We celebrate how far we have come as a community. We are the sons, daughters and grandchildren of farm workers, of people with very humble beginnings who have lifted the weight of the world in their shoulders so that we could have a better future. Like my mother, who grew up in extreme poverty in Puerto Rico and is now a branch manager at a local financial institution. Our parents have worked very hard so that we could have the so longed “American Dream,” while listening to salsa and frying tostones at home. We are proud of our heritage, and we have to teach our children to do the same.”
The Puerto Rican Parade is part of that teaching.
“This parade sends a message that is loud and clear,” says Santana. “We are proud of our culture and we are contributing to the improvement and the economic development of the City of Springfield.