Saturday’s chilly September drizzle could do nothing to dampen the spirit of Western New York’s 13th Annual Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day parade, whose theme this year was “Orgullo De Nuestras Raíces” (“Proud of Our Roots”).
Under heavy gray skies, the parade began in front of City Hall, winding its way up Niagara Street. Standing in the middle of the traffic circle to direct the parade participants, was Bernice DeJesus. This is DeJesus’ first year as Vice President of the Steering Committee, and fourth year working with the parade itself.
She described the event as an opportunity for “the community to celebrate our heritage, not only as Puerto Ricans, but as Latinos.”
According to DeJesus, as the Latino population of WNY has grown, the parade organizers changed the name of the event to make it inclusive of Latinos of various countries of origin, “because we’re all one”.
Diversity of nationality was on display throughout the parade, especially in the group of students representing the SUNY Buffalo’s Latin American Student Association (LASA).
Wrapped in a variety of national flags, the smiling LASA students demonstrated their enthusiasm for participating in the parade.
“There’s not one culture that we represent,” explained member Thais Nunez. “There’s a little mix of everything. For us it’s a celebration of our culture.”
“We need to represent the UB community, the diversity there,” student Giselle Santiago said. “Being with family, out in the rain, that’s what we do!”
Mitchel Castellon, President of LASA at UB, agreed. He added that “the point of this parade is to exemplify our culture and how vibrant and lively and exciting we are.”
He explained that by showcasing Latin American culture through its music, cooking, and diversity, LASA hopes to tackle issues that affect the community at large.
“[At the parade] you see a lot of people enjoying themselves and feeling a sense of belonging,” Castellon concludes. “A sense that they’re at home.”