New York, NY – New York City's Fifth Avenue was party central Sunday as thousands celebrated the National Puerto Rican Day Parade.
Crowds along the parade route waved the red, white, and blue of the Puerto Rican flag and cheered participants. Salsa dancers and dancers of the traditional "bomba y plena" paraded up the avenue surrounded by colorful floats and bands with trumpets and drums.
"It is an honor to be here because this year the parade celebrates our town, Guayama. We call it the town of the witches", 50-year-old Adelaida Lopez said.
Approximately 80,000 people participate in the annual event, organizers said. The theme of this year's parade was Puerto Ricans in higher education.
"There a is a lot to celebrate because Puerto Ricans, through higher education, have advanced as a community," said Dr. Felix Matos-Rodriguez, president of Hostos Community College and this year's grand marshal. "This is a good moment to celebrate what we have done correctly and start working on the things we need to improve."
Ten percent of Hostos' students are Puerto Rican and sixty percent are Latino, Matos-Rodriguez said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Congressman Robert Menendez and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, as well as Sen. Charles Shumer participated in the event. Congressman Charles Rangel paraded in a car with musician Willie Colon.
The state, city and parade officials led the way as the parade kicked off under sunny skies in the late morning. Many Puerto Ricans said they arrived around hours before the start to get a spot with a good view.
"This is an event full of joy, it is a big party and it reminds me of home", said Jose Laureno, a 61-year-old maintenance worker who drove from North Bergen, N.J., with his family.
Spectators waved to girls with colorful dresses and flowers in their hair, and danced along with participants in giant puppet heads or traditional "pava" hats.
The parade included a voter registration campaign and featured stars including actor John Leguizamo and NFL player Victor Cruz of the New York Giants.
"This is always one of the most fun parades, it is one of the best attended parades, there is a spirit here that has gone through this parade, continues to go. It never loses its excitement, its enthusiasm," Bloomberg said. "Today, we are all a little bit Puerto Rican."
The parade has been an annual event in New York since 1958 and has grown to be one of the city's largest.