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Puerto Rico’s Crutch in 2020
By AP Reporter Rey Sabri

Originally appeared in the September 15, 2020 Issue Of Black Westchester in The Latino Empowerment Section

(Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)

‘Yo soy Boricua, pa’que tu lo sepas!’ is the rallying cry that can be heard throughout the streets of New York every June 14th. Words that are inspired by the excitement of knowing that the Puerto Rican Day Parade is at last finally here! The second Sunday of June is a special day that is marked on the calendar in every Puerto Rican household. Families prepare for a day of celebration as festivals fill up the streets across all of New York’s major boroughs – the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island … and yes, even the county of Westchester! People of both Puerto Rican descent and all Hispanic heritages come together to celebrate the enriched history of Puerto Rican culture. The Puerto Rican Day parade is currently America’s largest cultural celebration. It is a time when both friends and families can hit the street and enjoy the energy of traditional dance, music, and great tasting food.

But this year was different … Residents of New York’s major boroughs & counties did not wake up on June 14th to a loud rallying cry or the blasting of ‘Aguanile’ by Hector Lavoe & Willie Colon. Instead, people were home asleep because there was something else that had hit the streets earlier in the year – one of America’s worst pandemics. As a result, there were no festivals or celebrations in the streets of New York … it was the first time in the parade’s 62-year history that it was canceled.

In a year of such turmoil and stress that left thousands of Americans dead and jobless, the news of canceling America’s biggest celebration Hispanic culture was another tough pill to swallow.

“The Parade is more than a celebration of pride and culture. It’s a platform for preserving our heritage while advancing our community by informing on important issues and promoting educational achievement,” said Louis Maldonado, board chair for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade (NPRDP) Board of Directors, in a statement.

Before the Coronavirus, Puerto Ricans were already coping with the heartbreak of earthquakes and hurricanes, ex: ‘Hurricane Maria’ tearing apart their homeland and separating their families. Puerto Ricans are still in the process of rebuilding their beloved island and COVID has now made that task even more difficult.

“Having a moment – even if it is just for a day – to forget about everything going on in Puerto Rico … to forget about the ongoing earthquakes & hurricanes … to forget about COVID and just celebrate life through music and dance would be especially heartwarming for those who hail from an island that considers traditional dance a national treasure,” said Alberto Alvarez, resident of the Bronx.

With no national parade and a decimated homeland – it has been a tough year for Puerto Ricans.

But there is still hope … With Hispanic Heritage month is here, Puerto Ricans will now turn to find solace in their other national treasure – baseball.

Major League Baseball has announced that on Wednesday, September 9th all players of Puerto Rican descent will be permitted to wear the Puerto Rican baseball icon Roberto Clemente’s No. 21 during the commemoration of the 19th annual Roberto Clemente Day. Additionally, other players who are not of Puerto Rican descent will be offered the opportunity to wear a patch on their jersey that displays the No. 21 to commemorate the legacy of the late Hall of Famer and island hero.

“For all us Latinos who have played Major League Baseball, and have had to deal with so many obstacles, difficulties, and challenges, [Roberto] Clemente is the source of inspiration we need to move forward and pursue our dreams and be an example to others on and off the field,” said Yadier Molina, catcher of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In a post-Hurricane Maria and COVID-19 world, baseball is Puerto Rico’s crutch. The diamond serves as a sanctuary for both players and fans. For nine innings, Puerto Ricans can take their minds off the problems they are facing, ex: the current health crisis, economic crisis, natural disasters and etc; and have a reason to smile again. Baseball is more than a sport in Puerto Rico; it is a way of life. The game serves a bigger purpose – uniting the community by bringing people together to share moments of laughter, cheer, and joy. The island’s great passion for the sport was personified during 2017 World Baseball Classic, when players on the Puerto Rico club died their hair blonde as a display of unity as the club made their run to the championship game against the United States.

There may be no parade this year, but the passion and unity for Puerto Rican culture will be on full display again before 2020 officially ends. Because on this upcoming Roberto Clemente Day and Hispanic Heritage month, Puerto Ricans across the globe will have the opportunity to raise a glass to toast the perseverance of both their island and people. After all, Puerto Ricans have collectively overcome a devastating hurricane, earthquake, pandemic, and economic crisis. And are now working side-by-side – with the help of everyone’s broad shoulders – to uplift the entire island back to its glory days, once again.

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