COVID forced the cancellation of this year’s Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day Parade in Buffalo, but organizers were out Thursday morning celebrating contributions by those communities.
With flags of numerous Latin American nations aligned at ground level, flags of the United States and Puerto Rico were raised on poles outside the La Casa de Los Tainos apartment building on Trenton Street.
"Buffalo is a very diverse city. We embrace and respect our diversity," said Mayor Byron Brown, one of several invited dignitaries. "Our Puerto Rican and Hispanic community have done so much to grow the city of Buffalo. Prior to COVID-19, we were seeing a real renaissance in the city of Buffalo. The Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day Parade is one of the largest summer events not only in Buffalo and Western New York, but in the entire State of New York."
The parade was to be held this Saturday. Several concerts tied to the celebration were also cancelled. But the flag raising ceremony presented an opportunity to highlight some achievements within the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community within the past year.
Charles Torres, president of the Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day Parade of Western New York, recognized a small pile of backpacks and the specially-decorated sombrero of the late Ezra Castro. The Texas native, who became an adopted son of Western New York due to his passionate support of the Buffalo Bills, passed away last year after a bout with cancer. Castro, who was better known as "Pancho Billa," led an efforts before his death to collect backpacks and school supplies for children in need.
That tradition has not only continued, it has grown.
"Last year, the Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day Parade, with our partners, gave away about 300 backpacks. This year, they came fully supportive, and we're giving out over 1,200 backpacks to school-aged children over the next few weeks," he announced.
Javier Fernandez of Goya Products announced in Spanish that his company, which is distributing two million pounds of free food to communities nationwide, was bringing 50,000 pounds of that food to Buffalo. Distribution was scheduled to begin Friday morning at the Belle Center.
Also as part of the ceremony, a $2,000 college scholarship was awarded to Paola Rodriguez Ortiz, a graduate of Dunkirk High School.
Many of the residents sat outside the front entrance, all wearing masks while holding small Puerto Rican flags. The flags raised on the poles outside their building went up one at a time, beginning with the United States flag. Residents could be heard loudly singing The Star Spangled Banner as that flag went up the pole.
La Borinqueña was sung as the Puerto Rican flag was raised. Torres noted those raising it were individuals who worked on the front lines of the COVID crisis, including medical professionals and emergency first responders.