ROCHESTER — A prayer vigil at Don Samuel Torres Park at the start of August kicked off a week of Latino-related events in the city that included the Puerto Rican Parade and the 44th-annual Puerto Rican Festival.
Geena Cruz, president of the Puerto Rican Parade committee, organized the "Peace and Unity Prayer" event, which she hopes will become an annual tradition.
"This (prayer) will continue on … for peace and unity and to celebrate all of the events going on," Cruz said. "We want the streets to see if we can unite, they can unite."
The organizers of several Caribbean events came out in support of the Aug. 1 prayer vigil, which included the Puerto Rican Festival, the Puerto Rican Parade, Latino Night at the Rochester Public Market, Carifest West Indian Festival and a Pretty Girl Productions’ boxing match featuring Hector Camacho Jr.
Father Laurence Tracy led the prayer with a parable of a people who let the fire out in their village because they failed to pass on the knowledge of making fire from one generation to the next.
"I want you to think about the parable over the next few weeks," he said. "Meditate on it and talk about it amongst yourselves. Maybe it is our story. Maybe it is not."
Telling "our story" was the theme of the Puerto Rican Parade, which marched down East Main Street Aug. 3 from Liberty Pole Way to North Plymouth Avenue.
Camacho said that he was enjoying visiting Rochester for the first time before he stepped onto the Puerto Rican Festival float, which featured the history of Puerto Ricans. Children and adults were dressed as Tainos, the native tribe of the island, and Spaniards including Queen Isabella as they danced on the float or marched alongside of it.
"It’s a great experience for me to be here with my people," Camacho noted. "It’s a great feeling to be bringing positive energy and light out there."
Due to a scheduling conflict, he parade was not held during the Puerto Rican Festival, which took place the following weekend.
But that did not dampen the enthusiasm of the hundreds of participants and marchers who took part in the parade, which was revived nearly a decade ago to inspire positive celebration.
Cruz said that the choice of this year’s grand marshals — Ida Pérez and Juan Padilla — also celebrated the pioneering spirit and perseverance of community leaders who paved the way for Latinos today.
Pérez agreed that Padilla and the Puerto Rican families who came to Rochester beginning in the 1940s did blaze a trail.
"(They) opened up doors and opportunities for people like myself," she said. "With dignity and respect and humbleness, they’ve kept the fire alive."
Father Tracy said that it was about time that the Latino community honored Padilla for all his advocacy work, especially in the area of education.
"Humbly and with very little reward for most of his life, Juan Padilla has made significant contributions to the growth of the Latino community," the priest remarked.
Deacon Nemesio Martínez placed Puerto Rican flag sashes on Perez and Padilla during the parade’s opening ceremony.
"We are not just keeping our culture alive" through the parade and festival, Padilla said. "We are a community that comes together."