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Boston’s Puerto Rican community celebrates culture at City Hall Plaza

Nate Homan | 8/8/2014, 6 a.m.
The three-day Puerto Rican Festival brought thousands to City Hall Plaza for live music, carnival rides and a parade.
The parade reaches the Common on their way to City Hall. Adoring spectators lined up in droves to cheer on the marching dancers and floats. (Banner photo)

Puerto Rican Festival Vice President Rafael Feliciano can remember when the Puerto Rican Festival of Massachusetts was held in the “Bum Park” on Washington Street in the South End.

“It’s Peters Park now, but back then we called it the ‘Bum Park’ because that’s where people would go to drink,” Feliciano said.

Since then, the festival has been held in multiple locations — including Rotch Park near the corner of Albany and Randolph streets and more recently, Franklin Park.

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Felix D. Arroyo and Warren Tolman pose along the Puerto Rican parade route.

This year, the festival was hosted at City Hall for the second year in a row.

“We wanted to celebrate with Mayor Walsh and introduce him to the community,” Parade Committee Member Anastasia Correa said. “It’s a pleasure because they might not have seen a festival like ours before at City Hall.”

The festival peaked on Sunday, August 3 with a parade starting at Hynes Convention Center, snaking up to Tremont Street and ending at City Hall Plaza. Onlookers lined up all along the route from Hynes, to Copley Square up, turning onto Tremont Street from Boylston Street, passed the Common and at the entrance to Government Center.

The crowd sported Puerto Rican flags on t-shirts and baseball caps while some waved large flags and many shouted “viva Puerto Rico.” The forecast called for rain, but the weather held up as dancers and flag-flying floats made their way towards Government Center while people cheered for their beloved island. Cars and trucks with large sound systems blared dance music, which got the crowd moving and chanting in rhythm with dancers who twirled batons and pumped up the crowds.

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City Councilor Tito Jackson, Mayor Martin Walsh, former City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo and parade festival organizer Carmen Colombani march by the Common.

Many in attendance cheered for Mayor Martin Walsh, City Councilor Tito Jackson and former City Councilor Felix D. Arroyo, who shook hands and waved their Puerto Rican flags.

The celebratory atmosphere of Sunday was not limited to City Hall Plaza, as the Feast for Saint Agrippina was setting up for the evening’s entertainment a half-mile away on Hanover Street in the North End. But on City Hall Plaza, the afternoon belonged to the Puerto Rican community of the Greater Boston Area and New England.

“We expected 40,000 people for the whole three days,” Feliciano said.

“We’re the second biggest festival in New England behind Saint Anthony’s Feast in the North End. It meant so much to have this festival at City Hall Plaza,” Feliciano said.

“To have it at such a special place in the middle of the city shows that we are seen as an important part of the community of Boston.”

Friday kicked off the festival with Youth Day, where children played and danced to cultural music and got to experience the vibrancy of their heritage. Saturday was the international day, where all different music, artwork and Latin American food was on display for patrons.

“We had all kinds of cultural foods from Puerto Rico and others countries like Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, all over Latin America and South America,” Correa said.

“Mix that with live music and dancing and you can imagine what a fun time it is every year.”

At City Hall Plaza, friends and families enjoyed carnival rides, games, live music, dancing and authentic food. The parade came to an end around 2 p.m., but the festivities on the bricks of the Plaza were just beginning.

“The festival brings people so much joy. It brings them back home to the island,” Correa said.

“In Puerto Rico we have festivals and carnivals for ancestors and religious reasons. Those are huge carnivals similar to Caribbean carnivals and Mardi Gras.”

Correa said that organizing an event on this scale is no easy task.

“It takes a lot to put something together like this. We have 15 people designated to manage the committees and the vendors, Sunday’s parade, a big domino tournament, real carnival rides, games, a beauty pageant with a different girl every year. Then there’s a night of galas, and auctions. It’s a lot of planning, but it is worth the effort. Our community really looks forward to this day every year. Everyone comes to see longtime friends who’ve been hibernating.”