First Ever Puerto Rican Day Parade Held on Lower East Side

El Grito de Lower East Side: A chapter of El Grito, a local community group, organized the first ever Puerto Rican Day parade on “Loisaid." Organizers say that the Puerto Rican contribution is being erased as the neighborhood gentrifies.

| 10 Jun 2024 | 02:29

The historic neighborhood of the Lower East Side, known to locals as “Loisaida,” hosted its first-ever Puerto Rican Day Parade, marking a pivotal moment for a community that has long been integral to the cultural fabric of New York City.

Under the bright, sunny skies on June 1, the streets came alive with vibrant colors, white shirts and the sounds of drums. Children danced, community leaders marched, and elected officials waved to the applauding crowds.

From the dancers in traditional dress led by Angie Hernandez to the beats of salsa and bomba from musicians including Jose “Pepe” Flores to the infinite number of red, white and blue Puerto Rican flags on display, there was no doubt the LES remains a vital Boriquen neighborhood.

Organizers behind this first ever such parade on the LES say they worry that the decades long contributions of the Puerto Rican community are being erased and overlooked as the neighborhood rapidly gentrifies—a fear that Eastern European Jews, Italians, Russians and other past residents can all empathize with.

A chapter of El Grito, led by TC Rosario and Lilah Mejia, two activists born and raised in the Lower East Side, spearheaded this historic event. The journey of El Grito de LES traces back to the pioneering work of El Grito at Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a community-driven initiative dedicated to advocating for housing rights, police accountability, and youth empowerment. El Grito does not have an exact translation in English but a quick google search shows “Gritos” have historically been battle cries for political freedom or moments of remembrance.

Even in the face of difficulties getting permits and overcoming logistical obstacles, the organizers remained firm in their resolve to see the procession through to completion. Their goal was to create a tradition that would endure and develop over time, going beyond a single occasion.

In response to current social and economic changes, the community demonstrated through El Grito de LES a shared willingness to celebrate their culture, make their voices heard, and make their presence known. Their efforts were motivated by a strong feeling of neighborhood identity and a desire to recover the cultural history that has long been an essential component of it.

The parade, originating at Columbia St. and Rivington St., went up to 12th Street and down Avenue D, a path rarely traversed by such festivities in the neighborhood’s history.

Reflecting on the Puerto Rican rich and overlooked history, Lilah Mejia, one of the parade’s organizers, said, “My people’s contributions are being whitewashed in this neighborhood, erased by the ongoing process of gentrification. Puerto Ricans are being displaced, and the things we’ve contributed to are not being acknowledged.”

“It’s frustrating for someone like me,” Meija continued, “a first-generation American born and raised in the Lower East Side, to see this. My mom and her family migrated here in the fifties, and it’s because of those elders in the fifties and sixties that the Lower East Side is what it is today.”

Pulling off an event like this for the first time wasn’t east. Everyone has an opinion, and some of those opinions are not always positive. “It’s very hard to get a permit,” says Mejia. “It’s challenging to speak with all these different representations of government. Like, it’s just tough anyway.”

Despite these hurdles, they managed to navigate the bureaucratic maze and secure the permits. “It took a lot of perseverance, but we made it happen,” Mejia reflects.

This year’s grand marshal was Felipe Luciano, an Emmy award-winning journalist, news anchor, and the co-founder and chairman of the Young Lords Party. Through his work for civil rights, ethnic pride, and community empowerment, Luciano’s participation gave the celebration a deeper meaning.

“Always be proud of who you are,” Luciano urged. “Make sure you teach the children, make sure to vote, because that’s gonna make the difference between what we continue and what we are now.”

And so the Lower East Side thumped with excitement and Puerto Rican pride. One woman among the celebrants echoed the attitude of the community. “We welcome everyone to join us and it’s so proud to celebrate this with all my people.”

“My people’s contributions are being whitewashed in this neighborhood, erased by the ongoing process of gentrification.” Lilah Mejia, one of the organizers of El Grito de L.E.S.