Erik Kantar

It’s been too long—15 years since Bushwick’s Puerto Rican residents have had an official opportunity to celebrate their culture and history within their own community. Now, thanks largely to Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, Tony’s Pizzeria, Magnifico Youth Sports Association, the NYPD, and countless other community leaders and residents, the rich melodies of merengue and salsa will sway a sea of red, white and blue, as they march, dance, and sing their way through the streets of Bushwick for the Knickerbocker Avenue Puerto Rican Day Parade on June 9 at 3 p.m.

Assemblywoman Maritza Davila, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Bushwick, led efforts to return a parade back to Knickerbocker Avenue, a strip commonly known as the epicenter of Puerto Rican culture.

Nostalgic of a childhood filled with Puerto Rican block parties, Davila seeks to empower community members with a sense of cultural pride and belonging, just as she was years ago, as her and her neighbors danced in empty lots on Knickerbocker to forget the devastation that surrounded them, “because that was part of the community. That’s what brought us together; celebrating and dancing.”

Salvatore Polizzi, manager of Tony’s Pizzeria, has also been playing a pivotal role in organization efforts, as his family’s restaurant has been involved in every Bushwick celebration since the 1970s. Drawing on inspiration from the 1980s, and 1990s, he recounts how after the famous Manhattan Puerto Rican Day Parade would run its course, attendees took the subway back to Brooklyn, largely spilling out into Bushwick’s rich Puerto Rican community.

“The constant honking of horns and stand-still traffic jams would not cause frustration on the streets of Bushwick but, rather, fill all those taking part with a sense of pride and joy that words could not justify by any means!” he said. “Mothers and fathers would hoist their children on their shoulders just to catch a glimpse of random strangers riding down Knickerbocker Avenue waving the Puerto Rican flag and playing music that not only filled their hearts with joy, but also brought tears to their eyes because it touched the souls of both young and old.”

Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC, photo by Bill De Blasio.

These memories, cherished by old school Bushwick residents, are revived, and on June 9, will be given the chance to touch more residents, whether life-long or fresh––ultimately, establishing once again, that Bushwick is an unbelievably rich, cultural hub for all.  

On the program this year, are notable partnerships with Avant Gardner and House of Yes, where special performances will be going live both inside and outside of their walls. The planning committee is also proud to announce that this year’s Grand Marshall and official DJ will be, star of radio station Mega 97.9, DJ Carlito.

Beyond the music, to achieve the goal in creating a community-driven parade, the committee has partnered with the Knickerbocker Avenue Merchants Partnership, to give a platform for merchants during the celebrations. Local businesses have suffered immensely over the years during changes in the neighborhood, demonstrating a need to prioritize them.

However, the parade accomplishes more than just a fun party, according to Assemblywoman Davila, it accomplishes three pivotal elements: one, a stronger relationship with law enforcement, which serves beneficial to all community members; two, a self-esteem booster for Bushwick’s Puerto Ricans, who have seen many of their longtime neighbors priced out due to rent increases; and most importantly, an opportunity for different cultural groups to understand each other and unite on a city-wide basis.

Davila then added, in a lighthearted but still rather sincere tone, “Oh, and make sure to bring your sneakers so you can dance.”

Cover image via Instagram.

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