After days of smoke from the Canadian wildfires, Bushwick came to life during this weekend’s Puerto Rican Day Parade. Families and local business owners, deep-rooted residents and new city-dwellers joined together for a day of cultural pride.  

The fifth annual local version of the parade ran along Knickerbocker and stretched from Menahan Street to Flushing Avenue. Smiling crowds spilled past the barriers and residents hugged and danced with their neighbors in the streets. Locals hung from apartment windows and vehicle sunroofs, while children darted through crowds, twirling flags. Even passing cyclists on their daily commutes raced down Knickerbocker with a Puerto Rican flag on their handlebars. Accompanying pets included a boa constrictor, a happy pitbull being carried, and a shih tzu in a tutu. 

Helado pushcarts, usually offering  an assortment of colors, served red, white, and blue ices. Cotton candy and pork rind vendors, posted on every corner, generously stuffed bags to visitors hurrying to secure a perfect view on the sidewalk. Every inch of pavement was filled with music, shouts of ‘borinqua’, and cars honking for bystanders.

Leading the parade this year was local Assemblywoman Maritza Devila and thew city’s public advocate Jumaane Williams, as well as city council members Jennifer Guiterez and Sandy Nurse. Groups like Riseboro, Metro World Kids, and Doral Health and Wellness handed out snacks, drinks, and sunglasses to onlookers. Youth sports teams paraded down the street, followed by the Classic Riders, a  club devoted to old Schwinn Sting Ray bikes which were originally manufactured in 1963 to resemble a motorcycle.

The procession of the neighborhood’s cars included the classic 1960s  Chevelle Super Sport and the 1950s Chevrolet Bel Air, and modern vehicles Can-Am Maverick and Polaris Slingshot. The rev of engines could be heard from blocks away and upon approach, their blaring sound systems reverberated through the crowds of onlookers. 

Vejigante, demon figures from medieval Spanish folklore, joined the march too, in colorful garbs that exemplified Puerto Rican culture. The vejigante in Bushwick wore striking, flowing robes and hide their faces with a careta, a multi-horned mask with a long snout. 

Puerto Rican flags, often accompanied by the black Puerto Rican flag, used as a symbol of resistance and strength, were seen more than usual too. During the parade, the flags robed visitors in the form of capes, hats, shirts, and face paint. Traditional clothing was also displayed. Bomba dresses, designed with flaring, vibrant skirts and stark white blouses, were seen on women who danced to blaring salsa music in the streets.

Bushwick’s take on the Puerto Rican Day Parade takes place on Knickerbocker Avenue on June 11.

Images taken by Vanessa Hock.

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