Aren’t all parades the same?

They all follow a similar formula: combine a few marching bands, fire trucks, throw in some candy, salute our troops, and call it a day.

But somewhere between 44th street and 79th street on Fifth Avenue during the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City, I realized this was a different kind of American parade.

Approximately 80,000 people stood on the side of the streets waving their blue, red, and white flags --no, not the stars and stripes-- this was the flag of the star and stripes. “Que Bonita Bandera,” they chant over and over again.  “What a beautiful flag.” Women wore flag draped dresses, painted Puerto Rican flags on their nails, and mothers held their kids hands as they waved to oncoming paraders.  Men wore Puerto Rican hats, waved flags, and yelled out “Boricuaaaa!”

This wasn’t just my first Puerto Rican Day Parade –it was the first time I’ve ever marched in any parade. This was a whole new vantage point.

As a third generation Dominican American –as assimilated as they come– I’ve never been what I would call the "flag-waving kind of guy.” I don’t have Dominican T-shirts, hang Dominican flags from my bedroom, or yell out “Dominicano” as a point of pride.  It’s not because I don’t care about my Dominican heritage --at least that’s what I like to tell myself-- it’s just I never felt a need to announce it to the world.

Am I somehow out of touch with my roots? I found myself hearing echoes of what some of my friends of all skin colors and backgrounds have said to me.

“I wish we could get half the amount of people to show up for a parade supporting our troops.” Or, “I just don’t get it. You’re not even Puerto Rican, why would you go to the parade?”

Yeah, why would I go to the parade? I thought to myself. Why was this so important?

I looked to my right and there was a seven to eight year old little girl holding our Fox News Latino banner with a painted Puerto Rican flag covering her face.

I told her she looked awesome. “Thanks,” she replied.

That’s when it hit me. The reason why we march is for that little girl. So, that she can grow up to understand where she came from, what her parents and her grandparents sacrificed so that she could live a better life than any generation in her family had ever known.

Assimilation and gentrification have become negative words in minority communities around the country –a fear that somehow mainstream society would prefer a Latino community that would trade in their Puerto Rican, Dominican or Mexican flags for an American one, no questions asked.

That’s just false.

Becoming a part of American society is a great thing, a must.  That is why thousands and thousands of Puerto Ricans have served in our nation’s armed forces.

Being American is about the ability to yell out Boricua and be proud of where you come from.

Wave your flag --it is no more an indictment against your American patriotism than speaking Spanish is. It’s un-American not to.

So, I give thanks to the Puerto Rican Day parade for opening my eyes to what it means to be American.  

I am proud of having assimilated in this country. I am proud of the United States of America. I am proud of my family who came to the United States with dreams of a better tomorrow for generations to come.

I marched in honor of that little girl’s parents, and her grandparents. I marched to pay homage to their tremendous sacrifice.

Who has “La bandera más bella” is irrelevant.  

The important thing is that for one day generations of Puerto Ricans and Latinos alike celebrated their continued journeys to the American Dream.

Follow Bryan Llenas on Twitter @Bryan_Llenas.

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Bryan Llenas currently serves as a New York-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC) and a reporter for Fox News Latino (FNL). Click here for more information on Bryan Llenas. Follow him on Twitter @BryanLlenas.

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