Thousands Hit Downtown Orlando for Return of Puerto Rico Parade – Orlando Sentinel

Belinda Reyes didn’t speak English when she moved from Puerto Rico to Osceola County as a child in 1984. As she learned a new language more than 1,100 miles from home, she often used cues textbooks to communicate with his teachers.

As an adult, she never forgot their patience and desire to learn. Now deputy superintendent of the Osceola County School District, she was named the first female grand marshal of Florida’s Puerto Rican Parade on Saturday, which was themed as a celebration of educators and education.

Reyes was joined in the nearly one-mile parade route by local and Puerto Rican dignitaries, high school marching bands, law enforcement and cultural groups lending the music and flair of “the island of l ‘enchantment”.

“For any student past, present or future, I want them to know that we can make it happen,” Reyes said, adding that she has achieved so much in her career because her teachers “gave me a voice. even when it was only through gestures.”

“I have never felt left out and silenced, and I want all students to have that opportunity and know that if it sucks,” she says.

Thousands of people lined the sidewalks all along the road in downtown Orlando, most proudly waving Puerto Rican flags and wearing t-shirts, sports shirts and hats emblazoned with its colors. Those who arrived without it were quickly picked up by a street vendor selling whatever they needed.

The sounds of music and the roar of three-wheeled motorcycle engines echoed through the streets, but did not drown out the passionate chants of those in attendance. “Yo soy Boricua, pa’que tu lo sepas” – Spanish for “I am Boricua, just so you know” – could be heard throughout the parade while songs like the Puerto Rican folk singer’s “Viva Mi Bandera” Andrés Jiménez sounded on the sound systems.

It was a mass cultural celebration that had been in the making for two years, as the parade was canceled in 2019 and 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The warmth of people, it just can’t be matched,” Reyes said. “We can connect in other ways, but especially for the Latin American population, there are no strangers among us. We may have met two minutes ago and you’re with your family, so now my family just multiplied here today and it brings joy to my heart.

After the parade, people flocked to the scents of meat skewers, mofongo and other delicacies for sale at the post-parade festival, where performers and other vendors presented their wares to the public.

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Many have perused a collection of postcards, prints and canvas paintings by José Becerril Osorio, a San Juan artist known for his depictions of Puerto Rican life and culture. A painting has recreated the famous Paseo de Sombrillas in Old San Juan.

Becerril Osorio, who has been showing his work since the 1990s, said that being Puerto Rican, whether he lives on the island or in the American mainland, means having an “attachment to his roots”.

“As artists, we can be jealous. In sport, we are warriors. Wherever we are, we are proud,” he said. “I’ve been to many different states, and even though we have US citizenship, we still behave like we’re still on the island.”

As a child, Reyes doesn’t recall seeing parades like Saturdays, and waving flags weren’t as prevalent. Often, she and others like her felt compelled to put aside their language and culture in order to assimilate, which she says has since evolved.

But there is still work to be done.

“Our next step as a people is to really have a voice in decision-making responsibility at every table where students are represented, where the community is represented,” Reyes said. “The underlying message is wherever we come from, our culture is imprinted in our hearts. And we shouldn’t ask anyone to give that up to be part of this community.

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David H. Henry