Like a big family, the parade has its virtues and defects

When I worked as a producer at WPIX Channel 11 in the late 80’s, we were known as the parade station. We had the Columbus Day Parade and the St. Patrick’s Day Parade but I decided we needed the Puerto Rican parade. There was no money in it because there weren’t any companies interested in advertising during the broadcast of the NY Puerto Rican parade in 1991, but it was the right step toward celebrating diversity.

So in order to make this happen, WPIX absorbed the production costs. Selling ad space for the broadcast was a challenge, so when I hear folks complain about the commercialization of the parade, it always makes me remember training salespeople in pitching this market. Way before the census would confirm our growth potential, we were selling its buying power and economic impact, without losing our essence.

Parade committees are not easy to work with when you’re producing a television event meant to boost ratings. These are civic organizations where most people are volunteers. Their main concern, as it should be, is a smooth glide up Fifth Avenue with no police activity, no rain and many happy flag wavers.

Ethnic parades are as New York as the Empire State Building, so I was troubled by a recent New York Times piece where a reporter sort of scooped up all the dirt on this parade – incidents going back to 2000 and 1978 into one piece asking whether the parade had outlived its purpose. The spark for the story was protest over the use of the Puerto Rican flag on a can on beer. But many of the comments on the Times piece reflected shame to utter disgust with the parade. I was annoyed, if not surprised, by the exchange in the comments.

To be clear and transparent, El Diario has always supported and done business with the Puerto Rican Parade, including facilitating the participation of our clients – advertisers – as sponsors of our floats. I cannot defend this or any parade committee against unwise decisions or public relations faux pas and what have become yearly controversies: For example, the St. Patricks Day Parade excludes gays.

But it is not up to mainstream journalists, or critics, or even activists with great intentions to decide whether the parade has outlived its purpose. It is not for any of us to decide that all those people lining Fifth Avenue last Sunday no longer deserve a celebration –as flawed as it may by perceived to be by some.

My 76-year-old father went to his first parade this year, in honor of El Diario’s 100th anniversary. And for over 20 years, I have been going to the Puerto Rican Parade in different roles: reporter, producer, city official, and supporter and most important as family. But mostly, I’ve attended as a proud Nuyorican. This event allows me to celebrate my heritage with my beloved city and I can choose to be there or to watch it on TV.

The thing about pride is that it crosses class lines, race lines and age lines. On Fifth Avenue, the day of the parade – we are one people. The parade is a family affair and whether nostalgic or romantic, the pride is real, the flag is ours, and the parade – with all its characters, and our people with all of their idiosyncrasies, the sometimes eccentric fashion, the loudness, the ones who drink too much, and the ones who paint flags on their faces – they are all family.