ROCHESTER — Festivalgoers said the event is like a family reunion.
But arrests in the northeast area of Rochester continue to cast a dark cloud on the Puerto Rican Festival held earlier this month.
Festival organizers and the Rochester Police Department had worked for months on a strategy to curb post-festival arrests and ultimately chose to end the three-day, 42nd-annual festival more than two hours earlier than normal on the last day, Rochester Police Chief James Sheppard said prior to the event. But the efforts still did not prevent the 28 arrests that took place in the hours after the event concluded at 7:30 p.m., Sheppard said during an Aug. 8 press conference.
The majority of the arrests were for disorderly conduct and took place along Joseph, Hudson and Portland avenues, Sheppard added, which are a mile away from the festival. Police officers also blocked off streets in those northeast neighborhoods to help ease the flow of traffic, he said. Two police cars were damaged by people throwing bottles and rocks, and no one was injured during any of the incidents, Sheppard said.
Having ridden with Sheppard throughout the area after the festival ended this year, Orlando Ortiz, festival board president, said that the celebrations seemed a lot calmer than in past years.
"We want to be proud of our heritage and celebrate with our flags," Ortiz remarked. "But bottle throwing takes it to a whole new level. … It’s unfortunate for us to have to be dealing with these things."
Sheppard said that he did not know if any of the people arrested had attended the festival. He noted that the police are dealing with two separate issues — the festival itself and the people who are engaging in negative post-festival activities, and the two are not necessarily connected.
"All three days here at the festival site, we had no problems," Sheppard remarked.
That has been the case for the past few years as the festival board had made security a priority at the festival site on the VIP lot of Frontier Field, Ortiz commented.
"We want to continue to have the Puerto Rican Festival here at Frontier Field," he added.
For the first time, Sheppard and six city police officers also marched along East Main Street to Frontier Field as part of the Puerto Rican parade — which had been revived as part of the festival several years ago to offer a safe place for people to celebrate instead of on the streets loitering away from the site.
The constant message during the parade and the festival was "celebrate with pride."
That cultural pride was evident by the people who created parade floats to represent their native Puerto Rican towns. The Suarez family even dressed as vejigantes, wearing scary masks and brightly colored robes decorated with sequins and fringe. The family wanted to show what carnival is like in their native Ponce as they danced on a flatbed truck that was part of its parade float.
The traditional festivities take place in the weeks leading up to Lent, Carlos Suarez explained.
"We wanted to bring something different to the festival," he added.
Liz Pachaco of Rochester always brings along her two aunts to watch the parade. Her family is from Yauco, Puerto Rico.
"It’s like a big family reunion," she said of the parade. "It’s like a real big party."
The Arguinzoni family represented the old guard of the festival, as they were part of the event’s origins in Brown’s Square Race, Sandra Arguinzoni said Aug. 6 as she and her parents sat in lawn chairs to the left of the main stage to take in the dance and musical performances.
Arguinzoni said that she had hoped that everyone in the community would "behave" so that the festival will live on for future generations.
"It’s something we have and can enjoy," she added. "We want our children to see it and our grandchildren. It’s important so they know our culture and our different customs."