ROCHESTER — National salsa artists combined with sunshine and cool temperatures attracted record-breaking crowds to the 44th-annual Puerto Rican Festival.
Festival President Orlando Ortiz said that the crowd was double the usual number for opening night on Aug. 9 thanks to a performance from Jerry Rivera. Crowds overall totaled 25,000 during the three-day event at Frontier Field’s VIP lot, topping last year’s attendance of 22,000.
Ruben Blades and Oscar D’Leon performed Aug. 10 and 11, respectively. On Aug. 10, several rows of lawn chairs were set up in the early afternoon to watch Blades.
"We were lucky and fortunate to offer this year that level of artists," Ortiz said. "It worked out well."
Unfortunately, the festival continues to be tied with incidents that take place in neighborhoods several blocks away, he said. No incidents or arrests took place at the festival site, Ortiz noted.
Rochester Police reported that 27 men and women were arrested — mainly for disorderly conduct — in the hours following the festival, which ended at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 11. About 100 officers were assigned to the Hudson Avenue and Avenue D areas where the incidents were concentrated, police said.
There were no injuries although police deployed pepper balls and acoustic devices to disperse the crowds. Ortiz said that he was heartened by the police’s feedback that post-festival activity "is getting better."
"We just hope that the trend continues and eventually goes away," he said, adding that the incidents are "certainly frustrating and we don’t condone the actions."
Police, city and festival officials had urged festivalgoers and community members to celebrate with "peace, dignity and respect," which were part of the event’s theme this year.
And those that attended the festival adhered to that theme, said Ray Mayoliz with Pathways for Peace, which offered additional security by paying particular attention to young people in attendance. He said that one night his staff did call out certain teens who wearing gang colors.
"They were respectful," he said. "They turned their shirts inside out."
And more attention should be paid, Mayoliz said, to kids like the Junior ROTC members who ran the festival’s Staff Sgt. Javier Ortiz Memorial 5K Race & Fitness Walk in full fatigues. And when the kids tired from exhaustion, they helped one another, he noted.
"We taught them that you never leave a soldier behind," he said. "It was very inspiring to run for our fallen soldiers."
In addition to the race and music, festival activities included youth boxing, a domino tournament and performances from such local bands as Pleneros D’Borikén and Calle Uno as well as Borinquen Dance Theatre. The queen and princess from the Miss Puerto Rico of Rochester contest also were on hand passing out candy to children as well as dancing with fellow pageant finalists.
Celisse Rivera, who was named pageant princess, also re-enacted a scene from the life of a slave during the Aug. 9 opening ceremony. Celisse, 17, researched the history of slavery in Puerto Rico during her pageant preparation.
The scene "represented life as a slave and that throughout all their struggles, they managed to bring out the best of life and accomplish their dreams," said the Irondequoit High School senior.
She said that being in the pageant has been a "blessing."
"I’m overwhelmed with joy," she said. "I want to inspire young Latino people in the community to succeed in life."