Sunday, June 13, 2004

Rican Weekend

In New York City it is Rican Weekend, the weekend of the now National Puerto Rican Day Parade and all the festivals that precede it.

I must have been five years old when I went to my first Puerto Rican Day Parade. I wore a white sailor outfit and a pava. In one hand I held a Puerto Rican flag on a stick. My other hand was left free. I didn’t even have to use it to hold on to my mother or my father. That hand was reserved for waving to the crowd. I was marching in the parade. My father was the Director of Personnel for the City of New York under Mayor Koch. I’m pretty my father was already having an affair. But I was marching in the parade and I had to smile and wave on command. And I loved it. But I had no sense that it had anything to do with where I came from. It could have been the clown parade for all I cared or knew.

It wasn’t until I was 16 that I attended the parade ever again. I went with my first boyfriend, a half Puerto Rican, half Ecuadorian boy to whom I lost my virginity. I peeled off a letter P and a letter R from a police barricade and stuck them on my ass. This was before I had an ounce of progressive politics in me and being Rican was about living in a Latino hood with my Latino man eating rice and beans on Fifth Avenue at the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

When I returned the next year it was to hand out flyers against police brutality and collect signatures demanding the release of the Puerto Rican political prisoners. I didn’t go to the Puerto Rican Day parade to show off that I was Puerto Rican or to prove that I was Puerto Rican. I certainly wasn’t going to pick up boys. I had learned through mentors like Richie Perez was that being Puerto Rican was a daily internal way of living, of giving to your community, and demanding and fighting for your community on a daily basis.

Richie and the rest of the Congress Patch Kids (what the latest generation on National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights called ourselves) would arrive early to secure a good spot. Then we would split up and hand out flyers about the latest upcoming events, rallies, and injustice committed against the Puerto Rican community. One of my personal favorite parade flyers, and I think it was Richie’s too, was the year we wanted to organize a mass booing of Giuliani as he marched the parade route. We printed these palm card sized flyers with a picture of Giuliani waving and wearing a guayabera (from a previous year’s parade). We printed on the flyers “When you see him pass, boo his Ass”. We all thought it was hilarious. And it worked. You could hear a wave of boos as the mayor moved up the parade route. I even think that was the year someone threw a mango at him.

Of course there was the Rican weekend when women were sexually assaulted. I was thrown into the protest rallies as the token Puerto Rican woman among white feminist decrying what happened. The MapucheRican could be seen in my arms in most of the news interviews I did.

Yesterday morning my sister, her friend and our cousin furiously put on their shortest skirts and as many Puerto Rican flag items on their bodies as they could. I know that they don’t know what the capital of Puerto Rico is though. Or where the flag they so proudly wear once a year came from.

The buildings along Fifth Avenue built blockades and put up wire fences to keep the Ricans off the grass and out of their lobbies. I complained out loud about the fact that that is not done during any other parade. My mother says “That’s because Puerto Ricans are animals. “
My mother was born in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico of Puerto Rican parents. She has two Puerto Rican daughters and a Puerto Rican granddaughter.


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