Returning from pandemic, Springfield Puerto Rican Parade celebrates community
With a Puerto Rican flag tied around her neck like a cape, Nelly Santiago, of Springfield, Massachusetts, cheered as every organization, school group, marching band and float made its way down Main Street for the 32nd annual Springfield Puerto Rican Parade Sunday.
"After two years I'm happy that all of us get to be together," Santiago said, referring to the past two years of virtual parades due to the pandemic. "It doesn't matter what nationality you are, but the important thing is to be here and to enjoy it and to learn about each other."
Santiago's daughter-in-law, Theresa Sanders-Santiago, was most excited to see her wife march with a group from Springfield Technical Community College.
"She helps put the group together (to march) and being born and raised in Puerto Rico, this is an important day for her," she said.
Sanders-Santiago said the event is a tradition in the city and going back to in-person was the right decision.
"It's time for us to get back to the normalcy of being together and being a community together," she said. "It's important."
Many schools, colleges and universities showed their support for the Puerto Rican community this year.
American International College's new president, Hubert Benitez, marched the parade route along with dozens of students sporting their school colors and waving Puerto Rican flags.
Benitez said he was excited for the school to celebrate with Springfield's Puerto Rican community.
"We have a big contingent of students who attend AIC from Puerto Rico," he said. "We are all about culture, multiculturalism, inclusion and being part of the community, so it is very important for us to have representation at these events."
While spectators celebrated and marchers engaged with the crowd, Victoria Rodriguez and Kelvin Molina-Brantley zipped up and down the parade route in golf carts, ensuring everything went successfully.
"We had about 5,000 registered marchers and that's our largest parade, with contingencies bringing hundreds of people to march," said Rodriguez, president of the Springfield Puerto Rican Parade Committee.
This year's parade theme was Unidos Progresamos (United We Progress).
"It's about rejuvenating our spirits after COVID, embracing the changes and continuing to move forward like the Boricuas that we are," she said.
Molina-Brantley, a parade committee member, said it took a lot of work to make it to parade day, but it was worth it to see the crowds having a great time.
"For us, it's been a crazy planning year. It was about dusting off our cobwebs and getting back to that energy of parade day," he said. "But we're here and we did it."
Brendaliz Cepeda, director of the folkloric group Bomba de Aquí, a troupe specializing in folkloric music and dance, said her team was excited to perform for the crowd.
"It's about time! It feels so good to be with our people, to celebrate. We are blessed to be here as a community," she said.
Cepeda said she was thrilled to see so many families and children in the crowd.
"This is really important for the youth because we talk about identity, knowing who you are, where you come from, and why it's important to know your culture," she said.
Parade committee member Jade Rivera-McFarlin spent most of her time on the stage set up in front of Tower Square, hyping up the crowd.
"Being on stage you can really feel the energy in the air and I think everyone was excited to be here, especially to celebrate, post-pandemic," she said.
After the parade, as she helped dismantle the stage, Rivera-McFarlin was already discussing plans for what to improve upon next year.
"We will take a little break for a few weeks, and to celebrate the holidays, but then we are right back to planning," she said. "It takes us about a full year to get ready for the next parade, and I can't wait to get started."