Events honor memories, cultures

Latin America’s 23 countries were represented during the Puerto Rican parade, which marched through downtown Rochester to the Puerto Rican Festival site at Frontier Field last month.

While not all of the countries were represented by floats, Geena Cruz, the parade coordinator, said that city officials lent the committee the flags that are displayed in City Hall during Hispanic Heritage Month. But residents from 10 countries did create floats to help Cruz meet her goal of expanding the reach of the parade beyond the Puerto Rican population. The city’s flags decorated the official parade float that promoted the theme "We are One."

Now, Cruz said that she will start working on connecting with the people who live in the neighborhoods that erupt into incidents of disorderly conduct and property damage in the hours following the closing night of the festival. On July 23, Orlando Ortiz, festival president, and Deputy Chief Mark Wood of the Rochester Police Department announced that 16 people were arrested as a result of those incidents that took place the night of July 22.

"I need the people who take the parade on the streets after the festival and bring it to the parade," Cruz said. "I want them to be able to show that pride. That’s my biggest mission."

Ortiz explained that the festival board has been working with Rochester police for the last few years to try and curb those incidents as well. And those efforts have paid off, as the number of arrests decreased from 28 last year and the crowds congregating in the streets were smaller, Wood noted. Festival board and police efforts have included fliers and YouTube videos repeating the message to celebrate in a safe manner, Ortiz explained.

Sgt. Justin Collins said that it is unfair that the festival gets lumped in with these incidents that do not take place at the festival site, as it diminishes the yearlong efforts made by the festival committee to plan the three-day event. More than 22,000 people attended the festival, and only one trespassing violation took place on site, Ortiz noted.

"There is no problem here," Collins said, referring to the festival site at Frontier. "They (the festival committee) have tried to be proactive in terms of what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable. It’s unfair. These people work so hard."

Part the committee’s work also is representing the festival’s theme, which was "Remembering the Past, Building the Future," Ortiz explained. To celebrate that past, Ortiz presented the Vázquez family with a special plaque in honor of Angel Vázquez, who designed the logo that the festival has used for the past decade. Vázquez passed away from kidney failure earlier in March, said his brother, Julio Vázquez.

"His contribution … will forever be remembered," Ortiz remarked.

His brother was a pioneer in many ways, added Julio Vázquez. He was the first in the family to go to college, and he worked as a graphic designer for Eastman Kodak Co. for 20 years, Vázquez said. Then, he opened his own design firm and traveled back to his native Puerto Rico and took up photography.

"He lives on in our memory and his art," Vázquez noted.

Honoring the memories of those lost to violence is the goal of "Operation Save," a group that marched in the parade, explained Elvis Hernández."Operation Save" also strives to end the violence plaguing the city this year that took the life of Hernández’s 21-year-old son, Deavoghn Hernández-Ruffin, he said. Hernández-Ruffin died from a gunshot wound at the Bug Jar in June.

The group’s parade float featured headstones and photos of the deceased.

"With all the homicides going on and this hitting so close to home, we need the entire community to pull together somehow and send a message to the community that gets us … moving in a positive direction," Hernández remarked.

The parade also echoed the festival’s theme of honoring the past and looking to the future, said Father Laurence Tracy during the opening ceremony on July 21. The original parade was a simple, humble event that grew into a massive demonstration of pride, he added. But later, the idea was abandoned and forgotten until several years ago when people like City Councilwoman Jackie Ortiz, Deacon Nemesio "Vellon" Martínez and Cruz resurrected the parade and helped it grow again, Father Tracy noted.

"It’s a symbol of our life to honor our pioneers who went before us and to build a new future," he added.

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