Friday, May 29, 2009


If You Wanna Take a Picture, You Need to Talk to Tito, 2003

You might say that the Irish know how to celebrate their culture, or that no one can touch the Italians or Greeks when it comes to pride of heritage. But for sheer celebration, nothing beats Puerto Rico Day in New York City. New York hosts many such festivals, where it seems to be understood that whoever's culture is being celebrated can be as crazy as they want to be on that one day.

All morning long, Puerto Ricans jammed subways, highways, bridges and tunnels coming into the city. They waved Puerto Rican flags. They hung out the windows of their cars. They honked their horns. The streets echoed with music, sometimes played live, but more often from speakers in the grills, back seats and trunks of their cars and trucks. They enjoyed each other's company. They whooped. They hollered. They sang. They ridiculed anyone who wasn't Puerto Rican. They ate Puerto Rican food. They sold every kind of trinket you could imagine on which a Puerto Rican flag could be affixed (including, strangely enough, tube socks). And they generally ate up every minute of anything Puerto Rican.

Like most of these festivals, Puerto Rico Day includes a grand parade down Fifth Avenue. Spectators started jockeying for seats along the avenue hours before the parade began. They loved that on this single day of the year the most whitebread, affluent, exclusive stretch of real estate was theirs.

My wife and daughter and I came out of a theater just as the parade was ending. Practically every street and sidewalk in Midtown was covered by a layer of flyers and trash. Floats, marching bands and other parade participants were dispersing out into the streets off Fifth Avenue. But few wanted the show to end. Many continued to play music, sing, wave flags, preen for one another and otherwise revel in the day.

I found these guys on 44th street. Anxious to keep the party moving, but having failed to sell me any tube socks, the guys in green nonetheless welcomed me to take pictures of them. To the consternation of my wife, I moved in close and went to work. We were all having a good time until the big guy in the Fubu shirt stepped in front of the camera and allowed as how my time was up. I'm pretty sure I could have outrun him. But I took a few last shots of him blocking the group and moved on.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, classic! Seeing him would have put a stop to me snapping, I think. When I used to live on the outskirts of Manhattan, growing up, we loved to head into the city and often, on a Sunday afternoon, we'd head to Central Park, where a few feet one way, the Italians would have some music and festive activities going on; and if you moved a few feet the other way, Africans would dance and have their music off to one side; the Irish would be dancing in another corner; the Lithouanians would be eating and picknicking, etc, etc. I remember those days in the Park with great fondness--it was truly a Melting Pot, and I relished it each and every time...

    Your description here brought it all back to me.