Jose G. Martinez Flores

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The Puerto Rican Day Parade

Our group, four-strong, rides the dirty, grimy 1 Train downtown to the Sun Festival. Moving through throngs of people, we ascend to the streets above the subway where the smells of various roasted meats and traditional southern cooking permeates our nostrils. While we walk in the direction of that smell, hungry for nourishment after what had been a long night, the only girl amongst us reminds us she’s a vegetarian. We turn to walk uptown to find someplace where she can avoid violating her commitment as an animal lover.

Our path takes us to 5th Avenue. The entire street is closed off and the sidewalks are lined with people as far as the eye can see. The atmosphere is cacophonic with loud whistles, megaphones and salsa music. It hasn’t begun yet as they were preparing the floats on the intersecting side streets. It is almost impossible to move as we keep traipsing on towards the subway which had become our oasis in this madness. We eat and then, at my suggestion, decide to stay to see the parade.

When parade begins, it becomes almost impossible to hear and answer my friends’ questions about Puerto Rico and its culture. They ask about our food after a friend sights a little girl eating an empanadilla (or pastelillo if you’re a San Juanero.) I respond to an inquiry about Salsa music and its origin and then demonstrate the basic 1 – 2 step. The German guy amongst us asks me what Medalla means and I tell him all about our national beer. Eventually, we all join in the cacophony as the crowds’ spirit overwhelms our initial resistance.

That night, we ride on the packed Bronx-bound  2 Train to 103rd street. We subsequently meet with two other friends and enter the Old San Juan restaurant. Unsurprisingly, it’s packed but we are surprised when a waiter is at our table in less than a minute. I tell the waiter, “Six Medallas por favor.”

With the beers in our hands we toast. Good times indeed.

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