Puerto Rican parade

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Puerto Rican Parade Takes Over Downtown Orlando


The Puerto Rican Parade marched through the heart of downtown Orlando, ending with a festival on the grounds of the Dr. Phillips Center. /Maria Padilla

A newly revitalized Puerto Rican parade, led by Cong. Darren Soto (D) and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and his black labradoodle, packed the heart of downtown Orlando Saturday with hundreds of Puerto Ricans waving their treasured flag.

The parade, in its second year, ended at the public plaza at the Dr. Phillips Center, where an outdoor festival continued through the afternoon and evening filled with live music, food and other vendors.

The parade capped a week of activities in the local Puerto Rican community, including a Puerto Rico Day in Tallahassee that drew two busloads of attendees in what has become an annual outing.

Orlando has hosted Puerto Rican parades going back more than 20 years but some of the wheels fell off the event after the death of Mildred Zapata in 2015, who for many years coordinated the parade and its affiliated events.

Current parade organizers Ralph Morales and Mike Moreno are said to once have been connected to the New York City National Puerto Rican Day Parade held in June, considered the largest Puerto Rican parade in the U.S.

Morales and Moreno last November pulled together a team of local activists and organizers to plan the parade, which promoted the achievements made by Puerto Ricans in business, health, music, science, arts and government.

Rival New York?

Florida’s Puerto Rican population has skyrocketed in the past 10 years as an economic crisis has gripped the island and Puerto Ricans from other states migrate to the Sunshine State. Today, over 1 million Puerto Ricans reside in Florida, and the expectation is that Orlando’s Puerto Rican parade could one day rival the New York original.

Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz./ Maria Padilla

“We finally made it official,” said Orlando City Commissioner Tony Ortiz, who also sang Puerto Rico’s national hymn “La Borinqueña.” The Puerto Rico-born commissioner added that the community must push to make the parade an annual event, a sentiment echoed by Morales.

“It was not easy but the important thing is to continue,” said Morales.

This was the second Orlando parade for the organizers and, according to some attendees, it was much larger than the 2016 parade.

“There weren’t that many floats” in 2016, said an employee of Orange County who didn’t want to give her name.

From Marching Bands to Bomba y Plena

This year’s parade included 10 floats, including floats representing Costa Rica and Mexico. But there were many more participants, including marching bands from University, Evans and Edgewater high schools; a classic Toyota club of Orlando; beauty queens, motorcyclists, military veterans and bomba y plena dancers. Elected officials such as Cong. Soto, the first Puerto Rican in Congress from Florida, who was honored at a banquet earlier in the week.  Puerto State Sen. Victor Torres (D), State Rep. Amy Mercado (D) and State Rep. Carlos Smith (D) also took part. 

Bomba y plena dancers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. / Maria Padilla










There was no shortage of Puerto Rican flags at the Puerto Rican Day Parade. /Maria Padilla


Puerto Rican Parade attendees along Orange Avenue show off their Puerto Rico colors. /Maria Padilla








Feeling a Case of Puerto Rico ‘Bailout Blues’

The Puerto Rico ‘bailout blues’ are brought on by always having to explain what Puerto Rico is about. / Maria Padilla

I’m experiencing a case of the Puerto Rico “bailout blues” after a recent conversation with a friend went like this: “Well, you guys want a bailout but you don’t pay federal taxes and you can’t have it both ways.”


After the rant dust settled down, I concluded: Must we always start from scratch?

Must Puerto Ricans everywhere always start from scratch when it comes to the subject of Puerto Rico? Are we doomed to a relive a Groundhog Day set to 1898? Are we forever to shout, “Remember the Maine!” – even to the President of the United States whose Twitter rant about Puerto Rico this week was woefully wanton?

Low on the Radar

It must be disconcertingly so, for knowledge is not required for opinions to be formed or uttered. But it doesn’t always have to be this way.

Trump tweets 1 and 2:

Puerto Rican Parade

All of this serves as a perfect backdrop to Saturday’s Puerto Rican Parade through Downtown Orlando,  preceded by busloads of Puerto Ricans returning from a Tallahassee tour earlier in the week.

The events serve three purposes – to remind the Orlando community of our presence, to build up our self image and self esteem, and to entertain ourselves. I worry that the third purpose may cast the longest shadow.

The ‘Ask’

“Don’t forget ‘the ask’ ” – shorthand for, what do you want? – I reminded a participant of the Tallahassee tour. Make sure you ask for what you want. What do you want?

What if the bomba y plena signifies nothing? What is the cost of a failure to launch? What is the point, to paraphrase Teddy Roosevelt, of walking loudly and carrying no stick?

Here’s the stick Federico de Jesús of the Puerto Rican Federal Affairs Administration is using to help secure up to $900 million in Medicaid funds for the island’s deep-in-the-hole health care system as well as to beat back Trump and likeminded pols:

“If (Congress) includes extending current Obamacare funding under Medicaid for Puerto Rico, that wouldn’t be a bailout to the Commonwealth, it would actually be saving money for state and federal taxpayers who would otherwise face an even more massive influx of Puerto Ricans moving to the US [boldface mine], where health care is 3 to 4 times more expensive than in the Island,” said De Jesús.

El Cuco

In Spanish this is called summoning “El Cuco” or ghost or nightmare, as in your worse ghost or nightmare is coming – hordes of Puerto Ricans at your doorsteps! Be afraid.

But doesn’t this paint Puerto Ricans as being unwelcome, unwanted, unwashed? And … aren’t there already more Puerto Ricans in the 50 states, mostly Florida and New York, than on the island of Puerto Rico? More or less 5 million versus 3 million?

Couldn’t the numbers be leveraged for better effect or result? Wouldn’t it be more empowering to state, “Over 5 million Puerto Ricans live in the states. All are citizens and each can vote – for or against you. Take your pick” ?

Wouldn’t it be more powerful for busloads of Puerto Ricans to go to Tallahassee in January or February before the Florida Legislature is in session, when committees meet and bills are being drafted?

No More Puerto Rico ‘Bailout Blues’

And wouldn’t it be great if people like the Rant Woman and Trump were better informed so Puerto Ricans wouldn’t have to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous comments?

Here’s the thing. We have no control over the Rant Women and Trumps of our times. Sure, they are ignorant and disheartening. I won’t look at Rant Woman the same way again.

I opted to move past Rant Woman. I unshackled myself from 1898. I remember the Maine even if she doesn’t.

If the Puerto Rican community minds its politics and business, whatever that may be, the know-nothing Rant People of the world would sit up and take notice when the results start marching in. Which they will. Guaranteed.

It doesn’t have to be 1898 all over again.

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor