by Leslie Fields, Environmental Justice and Community Partnership Director
June 12 dawned cool and overcast as thousands of people capped off almost a week of activities, events and galas by participating the 54th Annual Puerto Rico Day Parade. The Sierra Club Puerto Rico Chapter, the Environmental Justice and Community Partnerships (EJCP) Program and Building Bridges to the Outdoors (BBTO) Program worked together to create a wonderful participatory and unique opportunity to heighten the visibility of the Sierra Club’s youngest and most dynamic chapter to the mainland United States. The largest number of persons of Puerto Rican descent reside in the New York/New Jersey area. The Puerto Rican Day Parade attracted millions of residents along with politicians and stakeholders such as Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer, states Assemblypersons, and many local luminaries.
The Sierra Club contracted to have a fabulous float created and members dressed up as a manatee, parrot, water creatures and turtles. Over 20 members of the Puerto Rico chapter, including president Orlando Negrón came up from Puerto Rico to march. Other marchers included Robin Mann, president of the Sierra Club national board, Rafael Fantuzzi, of the Puerto Rico Coalition and the National Latino Climate Change Coalition (NLCCC) and Leslie Fields, the national director of EJCP, based in Washington DC. Signs and other turtle cut-outs were created along with matching Sierra Club Puerto Rico green t-shirts to complement the banners and placards. Earlier that week, on the Sierra Club sponsored a poetry and spoken word event at the world-famous Nuyorican Café. Sierra Club board member Aaron Mair came down from Albany, NY to support alongside a packed crowd that included colleagues from UPROSE, the oldest Puerto Rican environmental justice organization in NYC.
On the day of the parade, we were staged with our float on W.44th St. with many other floats (including UPROSE biodiesel bus) and Casa del Pueblo, another environmental partner organization from Puerto Rico. Then the salsa music rang out and we started marching/salsaing down W.44th St and turned left on 5th Avenue! We were dancing, jumping, cheering to and with the crowd and of course salsaing down historic 5th Avenue. We passed St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Archbishop was out sitting in his chair (with his coterie and police protection) like it was his front porch. They allowed children to approach him to take pictures and we the Sierra Club came along he jumped and started waving. We passed the Plaza Hotel where 5th Avenue started to narrow along Central Park. That stretch was cool and green and lovely. It felt like we were in Puerto Rico as the breezes enveloped us along with the undulating music and continual cheering. Our marchers were of all ages: grandmothers brought their grandchildren; young people skipped around passing out Sierra Club bags and flyers to the enthusiastic crowd. We approached the Metropolitan Museum of Art on 80th Street and the next thing we knew we were detoured to 81st St and then we were done! The marchers reconnoitered for pictures and a repast at a local pub, where we celebrated our successful event. The Sierra Club’s Best Intern Kokei Otosi was also in attendance for the whole time and she recorded the whole event as well.
Kudos to Camilla Feibelman (of EJCP and BBTO), Jonathan Ullman, Mark Bettinger, Frank Jackalone, Orlando Negrón , Angel Sosa recent past president of the Puerto Rico Chapter, Rafael Fantuzzi and the Puerto Rican Day Parade Inc. for the great collaboration and a fantastic event! A great time was had by all and the Sierra Club’s brands (national and Puerto Rico) were seen and appreciated by millions of enthusiastic viewers in NYC and as televised in Puerto Rico.
And a really cool video about our work in Puerto Rico!