Puerto Rican Day Parade to shine light on hurricane struggle

Puerto Rican Day Parade to shine light on hurricane struggle
The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — There will be floats, musicians and brightly colored costumes when the Puerto Rican Day Parade makes its way along Fifth Avenue this Sunday, as there always are.

But amid all the fun and celebration planned on Sunday, organizers and participants want to keep a spotlight on something serious — that months after Hurricane Maria roared over Puerto Rico, and as the next hurricane season arrives, the U.S. island territory is still struggling.

“This is a year where Puerto Rico has been devastated,” said Louis Maldonado, chairman of the board that oversees the parade and its affiliated events. “We need to keep that part of the conversation.”

Those watching the parade in person will see that in the marching contingents, including one made up of people who are on the U.S. mainland only because they were displaced from their homes on the island, he said.

The parade will also honor first responders and others who stepped up to help with both emergency efforts and ongoing recovery work, as well as recognizing David Begnaud, the CBS News journalist who has earned praise for his extended reporting about conditions on the island.

For those watching via the live broadcast, Maldonado said, there will be guests talking about the issues, as well as specific segments focused on particular issues, like the plight of teachers on the island or environmental issues.

This year’s parade comes a year after a controversial one, when the parade organization’s decision to recognize Oscar Lopez Rivera, a former member of a militant group responsible for a series of bombings, led some sponsors to withdraw their support and some politicians like Gov. Andrew Cuomo decline to take part.

Cuomo has been an outspoken proponent of the need to help Puerto Rico after the September storm and is expected to take part in this year’s event.

“People have really turned the page on everything that happened last year,” Maldonado said.

He also said that, at least on the parade board’s part, this year’s focus on the island’s recovery needs would be about the issues, and “not about the politics.”

President Donald Trump’s administration has been criticized by opponents for its handling of the hurricane’s aftermath; for instance, eight months later, full power has yet to be restored. A recent study from Harvard University estimated there were up to 4,600 more deaths than usual in the three months after Hurricane Maria, although some independent experts questioned the methods and the number in that study.

The official federal death toll is at 64.

At least one parade participant, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., said the parade needs to take a political tone. He and the group he is marching with plan to be in black T-shirts that reflect the Harvard study’s estimate of the dead.

“It would be a missed opportunity this Sunday … if we don’t show an act of solidarity, an act of protest, an act of defiance,” he said, “to let the world know we still have a president and Congress that still has not done right by 3.5 million Americans.”

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Deepti Hajela covers issues of race, ethnicity and immigration for The Associated Press. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dhajela. For more of her work, search for her name at https://apnews.com

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