On Sunday, June 11, hundreds of thousands of my fellow Puerto Ricans and New Yorkers will come together along Fifth Avenue to celebrate our shared culture and heritage as part of the 60th Annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade.
I will be among them.
I will march as I have for each of the 20 years I have been an elected official. And I will celebrate like I have since I was a small child. I will shake hands with my fellow boricuas. I will proudly wave La Bandera Puertorriquena. I will not let the controversy surrounding one man become bigger than the hearts of millions of Puerto Ricans.
The National Puerto Rican Day Parade has never been about one person, but the more than five million Puerto Ricans who call the mainland United States their home. To suggest otherwise is to reduce our traditions and pride into the background noise of a novela. Reasonable people can disagree on the actions and impact of Oscar Lopez Rivera. Many in our city have invoked the specter of terrorism, especially in the wake of the tragedy of 9/11, as a reason why Rivera should not be honored by the parade, and I understand the passion of that argument.
Oscar Lopez Rivera served 35 years in federal prison. He was offered clemency by two different Presidents, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. He served his time, and he was released legally.
That so many sponsors have chosen to pull their support from this parade is incredibly disheartening. This parade is not about any particular individual, but the pride—orgullo—of the Puerto Rican people. To remove financial resources that foster this celebration sends an awful signal to a loyal customer base. Are we not wanted?
The dispute surrounding this year’s parade accomplishes nothing. In fact, it is a distraction from the historic injustice people on the island have faced and continue to endure for more than a century. The fiscal crisis in Puerto Rico has not receded since last year’s parade. The island’s debt has risen to a massive $123 billion, forcing the commonwealth’s government to file for a form of bankruptcy protection. More than 200 schools are closing on the island due to lack of funds. People are dying because Puerto Rico has lost its doctors.
Arguing over who is honored at a parade will not help the 3.5 million residents of Puerto Rico deal with the crushing debt crisis that affects their island. They are American citizens who need our help, and who does or does not march in this year’s parade is inconsequential to the much weightier issue of their plight.
The fiscal crisis on Puerto Rico requires immediate federal action. The Trump administration and Congress cannot allow the island to sink under its debt. The status quo is unacceptable. In order to truly save Puerto Rico, there must be a permanent solution.