After 15 long years of no official Puerto Rican Day Parades, Bushwick finally had its wishes granted: on Sunday, June 9, after months of planning, community partners organized and held the first annual Puerto Rican Day Parade on Knickerbocker Avenue––to much success.
Knickerbocker Avenue’s significance to Puerto Rican culture dates back as early as the 1970’s, where the Puerto Rican residents would meet up to celebrate in the streets following the much more crowded Manhattan Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Functioning as a lively community after-party, longtime Bushwick locals recall dancing to rich salsa grooves, in lock-step with neighbors, as smoky sidewalk barbecues fueled the fun into the early hours of the morning. In the ‘90s, once New York City’s crack epidemic began spreading through the borough, the police department began barricading the streets, shutting down any opportunities for Bushwick community members to gather and celebrate their Puerto Rican culture.
“I grew up on Melrose and Knickerbocker. I was here when we were doing this every year and then all of the sudden it was taken away with police barricading everything,” said Big Sence, a Reggaeton artist who performed at the parade after-party. He went on affirming, “Look I’m all about change and growth, but this here meant so much to me: marching down Knickerbocker Avenue, and seeing who’s left here, waving flags. I’m not Puerto Rican, I’m Dominican, but I represent a Latino culture that’s becoming extinct. I think we can all co-exist, we just need to do it the right way like this.”
On this parade day it was different; it was historic. Armed with the long awaited permits, and a profound sense of resilience, that stems from seeing their family and friends priced out and forced to move, the Puerto Rican community came out in masses, with the police department estimating nearly 25,000 parade goers. “This Puerto Rican Day Parade was like a light at the end of a tunnel for Bushwick!” said Barbara Smith, who serves as President of the 83rd Precinct Community Council.
“I knew that we had to bring this back to Bushwick and organize a committee that was going to make it happen and we did it,” said Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, representing the 53rd Assembly District. “Today was a true constellation that we are still here in Bushwick united together with diversity. The amount of support on Knickerbocker Avenue was truly incredible.”
Every block, every turn, the feeling in the air was unity and diversity––the Bushwick community opened its arms for a family-friendly, all inclusive parade that lead into House of Yes where DJ Carlito served as the Grand Marshal for the official after-party event.
In true Bushwick fashion, local Latinx artists were given the opportunity to perform and showcase their talents to an energetic, diverse House of Yes crowd. Over the course of the evening, DJ Carlito––the Bushwick born and raised DJ, who rose to fame with Mega 97.9––brought out over 10 artists, including: Denzel y Marlex, Don Dre, New York Natives, Frank Litty, CYN Roc, Jaystylez, Jonathan Fontaine, Illanoiz, Big Sence, G7 Patch and SabyLo.
“The local Bushwick artists unite all of us as family and it shows that Bushwick has talent,” DJ Carlito said about the decision to only have local artists on the bill. “People underestimate how much Bushwick has because a lot of people were bought out over the years, so people have been afraid to expose themselves and show what they got talent wise. So having this stage to see how much talent our hood has is amazing.”
When the last beat sounded at House of Yes, and the final stragglers shuffled to the doors to take to the now darkened streets, a loud cry came from a pack on the corner, “Yo soy Boricua, pa’que tu lo sepas!” The group then slowly walked their way home, with legs sore from a day of dancing, but an incredible added sense of pride––that Puerto Rican culture is inseparable from Bushwick.
Cover image courtesy of @miguelluciano_ny. All other images by author.
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