Out In Bushwick’s Own Puerto Rico Day Parade

“Nothing has changed at all,” insists Assembly Member Maritza Davila ahead of this year’s Knickerbocker Avenue Puerto Rico Day Parade, which took place on Sunday. A local version of the storied parade that happens around the same time along Fifth Avenue, the one on Knickerbocker has been going for about six years and involves closing the street for much of the afternoon. 

The tradition had started as a response to the police annual efforts to shut down the neighborhood that day anyway, in order to deter “the young, often inebriated revelers” afterpartying from the city’s main parade. “We were barricaded for about 15 years,” Davila told me, something she called “an insult to the Puerto Rico people.” This was around the time she took office, when she rose to take the place of her old boss, the disgraced politico Vito Lopez, who died shortly after sexual harassment allegations forced him out of office. According to various accounts, the parade itself had been started by a handful of rather active constituents and local business owners who had brought the notion to Davila’s attention as she was establishing her political presence in the neighborhood.

“This is the people’s’ parade. It doesn’t belong to one person. It belongs to the people. However, it take a lot of planning and work goes into it,” says Davila. I had been on the phone with her after hearing from Robert Camacho, who claims to have been among the original instigators of the parade in the last decade. He had written a letter, back in April, to the committee running the parade announcing his resignation. It had become Davila’s show and Camacho wasn’t having it.

“As a lifelong Bushwick resident that helped bring the parade back to our community, it is hurtful that my role was reduced to yelling at people to tell them what to do after all the work I’ve done on behalf of this community and the parade,” wrote Camacho. He had been upset by the committee’s decision to run the parade this year through El Puente, a somewhat larger and more powerful Williamsburg community group started by the late community organizer Luis Garden Acosta. Camacho runs his own group Magnifico Youth Sports and he was upset the politician was no longer moving the parade’s business through him.

“That’s what happens, it’s called parlor tricks,” Camacho tells me, mournfully. Another former parade organizer Salvatore Polizzi had resigned even earlier, writing in his letter, on behalf of an organization called the Knickerbocker Avenue Merchant Partnership, that the committee “has lost sight of the spirit of Knickerbocker Avenue’s Puerto Rican Day festivities,” something he connected to “moral principles I’ve spent a lifetime working to perfect.” In an interview with me, he says that the parade has become the “Davila” show.

Davila, of course, refutes all of this. 

“I was a little shocked by it,” she says. Nothing was different about the parade at all, she promised, at great length, despite the lack of various people like Camacho, who still runs the local community board and Polizzi, who still runs Tony’s Pizzeria, which Bushwick Daily readers once voted the best pizzeria in the neighborhood. A spokeswoman for the Assemblywoman would interrupt, occasionally, and talk about issues the office had finding insurance for the smaller group Camacho ran. Counterintuitively, Davila would insist that this was the beginning of an effort to “rotate” organization of the parade and that Camacho would, some day, get to run it again.

On the day of the parade itself, the various groups took to the street as one imagines they always have. A troope of the El Puente people marched in the parade, after members of locally-employed military outfits and before a parade of various DJs, marshaling the early summer air. Other politicos could be found too, like Antonio Reynoso, the Brooklyn borough president getting occasionally tipped as a progressive rival to his predecessor at that post, Eric Adams. (“In an interview, Mr. Reynoso said he was not interested,” reports the Times.)

Polizzi would text me, later, promising that he and Camacho would “endeavor to bring the parade back to its community roots… before it took on a political element.” 

Photos taken by Andrew Karpan.

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