Camden, NJ—Roosevelt Park was filled with music and dancing Monday afternoon as the city, along with Parada San Juan Bautista Inc., celebrated the annual raising of the Puerto Rican flag in front of City Hall.
The Flag Raising Ceremony kicks-off a month long celebration of Latino culture, culminating with the 61st annual Parada San Juan Bautista and post-parade Concert. The flag will fly in front of City Hall for the entire month of June.
This year's Parada San Juan Bautista Grand Marshal, Camden County Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez, said that the parade serves as a constant in the community.
"I grew up here in the city, and I can tell you honestly that La Parada San Juan Bautista is a constant. It is very important that we have this constant, because it reinforces who we are, it gives up pride and helps us stand," said Rodriguez. "It's a constant that helps children to feel integrated, to feel part of and to feel very very proud of who they are and they’re identity."
The flag raising ceremony, held in Roosevelt Park in front of the flag poles outside of City Hall, was attended by federal, state and local officials, along with members of Parada San Juan Bautista and the community.
"We need to convey to our youth the importance of our heritage, and hopefully this flag will assist in this endeavor," said Parada San Juan Bautista President Wanda Garcia.
New Jersey Senator Nilsa I. Cruz-Perez remarked how the annual parade taught her children about their heritage. Cruz-Perez served in the United States military and gave birth to two of children away from the City of Camden.
"They learned about the Puerto Rican tradition and our culture thanks to the Parada San Juan Bautista," said Cruz-Perez.
Mayor Frank Moran called the parade a "celebration of not only Puerto Rican heritage and culture, but the diverse culture of Camden," adding, however that the parade is an opportunity to "reflect" on the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, which ripped through the island this past September.
"As a result of Hurricane Maria, it is estimated that there weren't just some 50-odd deaths, as a result of the hurricane there were over 4,000 lives lost," said the mayor. "I look forward to joining all the celebration that’s going to take place this month, but I think its important that we don’t forget about our homeland Puerto Rico."
U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross told the crowd gathered Monday afternoon that he blamed the leadership in Washington D.C. for the current state of Puerto Rico.
"Somehow if you call Texas home, you’re chances of surviving were so much better If you call Florida home. But heaven forbid you call Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands home. You were devastated, $94 billion worth of damage and today, people are still without power in our nation. Inexcusable," said Norcross. "Apparently you don’t look like the president, so you don’t get treated like the president."
However, according to Rodriguez, that despite all the challenges Puerto Rico will face the parade has remained a constant.
"Camden City and our Puerto Rican residents here have gone through very, very difficult and tumultuous times over the years," Rodriguez said. "La Parada San Juan Bautista was a constant in spite of that, in spite of all the things that have happened and how much people have struggled. Because we have struggled, but we've overcome and we will continue to overcome."
The Parada San Juan Bautista will be held on Sunday, June 24 at noon and start at Third and Elm streets.