Festival, parade celebrate youth, culture

ROCHESTER — Food, music and catching up with friends drew many festivalgoers to the 45th-annual Puerto Rican Festival held at the beginning of this month.

As Michael Rodríguez of Rochester stood holding his dog, Barnie, Aug. 2 at the intersection of Main Street and North Plymouth Avenue during the 10th-annual Puerto Rican Parade, he said that he was headed to the festival for the first time. He was among the hundreds of people waving Puerto Rican flags as the floats marched by on their way to the festival site at Frontier Field’s VIP lot.

"There’s a lot of energy (today). I love it," Rodríguez said. "There is a lot of music and dancing. And I’m looking forward to the (festival’s) good food. That’s the best part."

That food came courtesy of several area restaurants that served as festival vendors along with area organizations and colleges. Musical performers included local bands and a variety of local dance groups as well as international headliners.

Although rain threatened throughout the weekend, festival organizers were relieved that it stayed away for the most part, said Orlando Ortiz, festival board president. But the weather may have caused a dip in attendance for the three-day event from last year’s record-breaking 25,000, he said.

People pack the area around the stage during the Toby Love concert Aug. 1.

Festival organizers also were pleased that the annual post-festival frivolity in North Clinton Avenue neighborhoods, which are several blocks away from the festival site, was calmer this year, Ortiz said.

People still took the streets and honked horns and caused some disturbances, he noted, but efforts to curb such activities seem to be working.

Only one person was arrested for disorderly conduct and one police car windshield was damaged by a thrown bottle, said Rochester Police Investigator Frank Camp, who works in the chief’s office. Last year, there were 27 arrests.

He said climate and the "professionalism and measured response displayed by officers" contributed to the dramatic drop in post-festival incidents.

"We are (also) grateful that the efforts made by the leadership of the local Hispanic community have made an impact in regards to the behavior of celebrants during the post-festival activity," Camp said in an e-mail. "We are hopefully optimistic that this will reoccur in the future."

There were no incidents or arrests on the festival site, Ortiz noted.

"We continue to see a decline in the number of events occurring and the length of time that (activity) is going for," he said. "We’re happy to hear that. We don’t condone any of those activities. We’re glad people were more civilized and calm this year."

Puerto Rican Festival 2014

The community collaboration with police included participation from La Cumbre members, who sat with police staff in the command post during the Aug. 3 evening hours. La Cumbre is an advocacy group that was created last year.

Ray Mayoliz, director of the city of Rochester’s office of youth outreach and violence prevention, stood watch in the command post. He was most distressed to observe mainly young people taking to the streets, riding motorcycles and ATVs recklessly and setting off fireworks, Mayoliz added. On Aug. 4, he also went to City Court to observe the processing of the one arrest as part of this new initiative, he said.

"We have a parade that was wonderfully organized this year and this would be the platform for this population to celebrate their culture," he remarked. "I commend the Puerto Rican Festival … and the city of Rochester and the RPD for being prepared and controlling the environment."

During the parade’s opening ceremony and a July 30 peace rally, Mayoliz also was honored with the "Father Tracy Award" for his longtime work trying to keep youths on the right path.

Father Laurence Tracy, for whom the award is named, said that Mayoliz does "one of the most important jobs" of promoting peace among young people.

"More important than any job I’ve ever done, Ray has done in preserving the youth for our community," remarked Father Tracy.

"Celebrating our Youth" also was the theme of the festival and parade, and such recognition should help Latino youths feel more confident and proud of their culture, said Yvana Meléndez, a School of the Arts graduate.

And she was thrilled to represent her culture, Meléndez said, through her role in "In the Heights," which was presented by the Rochester Latino Theatre Company and OFC Productions this past spring. She sang a song from the show at the festival on Aug. 2.

"Celebrating our youth … is all about taking pride of where you come from, your heritage, your family," she added.

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