PATERSON, NJ- Visitors will notice the red, white, blue flying proudly over city hall this week. However, while the 13 stripes and 50 stars of the U.S. flag still adorns one flag pole, the other flag bearing the same colors contains just one star and five stripes, waving in the wind for the local Puerto Rican community, estimated to be over 20,000.
With dozens of onlookers, the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Paterson raised their flag for the 46th time, the longest standing cultural tradtion, according to the group’s president Eddie Gonzalez, in the city.
Taking turns at the microphone local leaders such as Congressman Bill Pascrell, Mayor Andre Sayegh, and City Council President Martiza Davila praised the community for their contributions to the Silk City.
“Puerto Ricans have come to Paterson, and have made our city better,” Sayegh declared to applause while Pascrell offered his belief that it is the multiculturalism of Paterson, led in part by those of Puerto Rican heritage, that has “made our city and nation better.”
Pascrell used his time to renew his call for statehood for Puerto Rico, an issue that he said he has voted on once already during his tenure in the U.S. Congress and pledged to support again if given the opportunity.
The long time political veteran showed that he has lost none of the fight which has carried him through a more than 30 year political career when he decried the lack of action taken by the Trump Adminstration in the wake of Hurricane Maria which ravaged the island of Puerto Rico in September 2017 causing more than $85 billion in damage.
“What happened to that island shouldn’t have happened,” Pascrell said making reference to the fact that electricity was only fully restored last week, and that despite early reports of a minimal number of casualties, the number of dead is reportedly closer to 1,500 people. “They were American citizens.”
Among the honorees recognized on Saturday were Paterson Police Officers Arsenio Sanchez and Alfredo Guzman who made two trips to Puerto Rico following the storm to assist in clean up and recovery. During their first trip, just days after the storm ripped across the island. Sanchez and Guzman accompanied the New Jersey State Police and during their travel “saw everything.”
Just weeks later they returned to the island with four of their fellow officers, using their own time, to deliver over 500,000 pounds of food and supplies and participated in further recovery efforts including replacing roofs and chopping trees.
“There was no light, no power, no air conditioning,” Sanchez recalled saying that during their travels they would just get out of their car and lend assistance where they could. “For two weeks we traveled the island, we roughed it and showered in the rain,” he said indicating just how little infrastructure was left following the storm.
The 46th Anniversary Puerto Rican Festival will be held August 24-26 at 80 Prospect Street in Paterson’s downtown