Courier Post Reports: Camden parade celebrates city's diversity, people
CAMDEN — Wearing a custom-made, white silk traditional Puerto Rican dress, Carmen Gonzalez waved her native country’s flag near 3rd and Elm streets in Camden just after noon Sunday, greeting scores of parade walkers and marchers, dancers and drivers.
Gonzalez gripped the large wood flagpole and waved it through the air slowly and repeatedly, in front of her, then to her side, waiting for her spot in the 56th annual Parada San Juan Bautista.
The 49-year-old Pennsauken resident, who came to the United States from Puerto Rico at the age of 3, was one of thousands who ended the week with a vibrant celebration of Latin music, dance, garments and speech.
“I always feel like there is a part of me that belongs somewhere else,” she said. “I get goosebumps being here today.”
Celebrating Saint John the Baptist, the patron saint of Puerto Rico, this year’s parade included floats, cars and performances. The country’s red, white and blue flags painted Third Street, where the procession made its way south. Youth groups stomped their feet to the beat of drums, and others waved from the back of pickup trucks, wearing gowns and crowns.
Following the parade, a concert featuring local and regional artists was held at Wiggins Waterfront Park. The organizing group, Parada San Juan Bautista, Inc., also hosts events from May until the end of June; a gala dinner is slated for Saturday.
A key purpose of the celebrations is to instill values and culture in young people, organizers with the nonprofit group said.
Gonzalez, a mother of three, said she raised her kids to always be proud of their heritage. She continues to visit Puerto Rico, where she has a home, and one of her sons got a tattoo of the country’s flag on his forearm, she said.
“You see this in Puerto Rico all the time,” she said of the parade’s festivities. “It’s like a ‘wow’ moment.”
According to the 2010 census, 47 percent of Camden City’s population identified as having Hispanic or Latino origins.
Insomuch as the parade was a way to honor the places from which people hail, several attendees said it was also a unifying event to celebrate where they are now.
“It started as a small procession,” said program coordinator Juan Gonzalez, whose mother, Ramona, was a parade founder more than half a century ago. “Now it’s a huge cultural celebration. It’s become a civic celebration for everyone in Camden.”
Mayor Dana Redd said the event, growing in attendance and notoriety, “touches” the community and taps into the “fabric” of the city. It’s a chance to bring together people of all backgrounds, she said.
The organizing group’s president, Beatrice Caraballo, explained that the parade should be a “peaceful” one in a city tainted by crime.
Carabello said she enjoyed the Hispanic Family Center of Southern New Jersey’s float, which featured “Bomba,” a Puerto Rican music and dance style.
“Every year, I’m smack-down on the parade route,” said Theresa Atwood, 63, watching the final parade acts stroll toward Third and Market streets. “I want to see the first float to the last float. It’s always fun to watch people celebrate and be proud of their heritage.”
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