For the past 60 years, the National Puerto Rican Day Parade has been a celebration of everything that it means to be Boricua. Each June, we come together to march up Fifth Ave. not only to show the world our pride in our culture and heritage, but to highlight our contributions to the overall success of this city and this nation.
This year, everything is different. Our parade must also be different. It must reflect the stark reality our brothers and sisters face on the island in the aftermath of both natural and man-made disasters.
A dark pall was cast over the forthcoming parade first by the devastation Hurricane Maria caused on our island last year. This was made worse by the utter failure of the Trump administration and the federal government to deliver a real recovery for Puerto Rico.
For months, Puerto Rico saw recovery efforts lag behind those in other places that had faced similar devastation from recent storms. The power was back on in Houston, Tex., in a matter of days following Hurricane Harvey, yet it took more than seven months for the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority to restore power to its customers.
Even with that, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure remains so fragile that a single mistake by a subcontractor in April was able to cause an island-wide, week-long blackout.
Hurricane season is fast approaching. Can we say with any confidence that Puerto Rico will be able to withstand another severe weather event?
The storm itself and the inadequate recovery efforts that followed had real consequences in human lives. Just days ago, a Harvard University study found that 4,645 Puerto Ricans died in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. That number is more than 70 times the federal government’s official death toll of just 64.
This is President Trump’s own Hurricane Katrina. Yet he declares victory, and he throws paper towels to the crowd.
The Trump administration has failed the 3.5 million residents of Puerto Rico. The administration’s inaction has forced American citizens to live in third-world conditions, and has set the island up for further economic and physical ruin.
We have been heartened by the efforts of concerned leaders on the mainland, particularly those of Gov. Cuomo, to provide the island with both assistance and hope. However, those commendable actions have not been enough to rebuild the island and repair its most basic necessities given the federal government’s inaction.
Puerto Rico has been left in the dark. Rather than simply paying tribute to our island and its gifts to the city, the nation and the world, this year’s parade must be about fighting back against a President who does not care about our recovery and an apathetic, if not outright hostile, federal government.
Earlier this month, a Republican candidate for Congress in Florida said that Puerto Ricans displaced by the hurricane who are now living in his state should not be allowed to vote. Think about that. A potential member of Congress is comfortable denying his fellow American citizens their voting franchise after his own party has failed to rebuild their homes.
This is what we are up against. We cannot wait to be provided for. We must stand up for ourselves and let it be known to anyone who will listen that there will be consequences for those who abandon the commonwealth in their time of need.
We should express ourselves clearly in next Sunday’s parade by turning it into a protest march. We must wave our flags with pride in one hand, as we always do, and hold signs that call attention to the lack of interest the federal government has shown in our recovery in the other. Our normally boisterous cheers must be replaced with chants of action against those who have abandoned us.
Puerto Ricans do not have much to celebrate when it comes to rebuilding the island following a devastating storm. Puerto Ricans are American citizens, and deserve the same assistance and respect that our fellow citizens would receive after a disaster. That has not been the case, and we will not stand for it. At this year’s parade, we must send a wake-up call to those who would ignore us, be it President Trump, Congress or anyone else.
Symbolism has always been important in politics. This year, my fellow Boricua and our allies here in the United States must use this parade as a symbol that we will not accept less than others.
We must send a message that failure to help Puerto Rico in its recovery will have dire consequences on Election Day.
Rubén Díaz Jr. is president of The Borough of The Bronx.