"It's a great day for the Cuban community," said Mayor Albio Sires of West New York. "This is the second largest concentration of Cubans in America, so we're very happy that we're able to get all together to celebrate Cuban pride."
The success of the Cuban parade has grown every year with its increasing turnout of not only the Cuban community, but of the other Latin communities that reside in Hudson County. This year was no exception as everyone came together as brothers and sisters celebrating their Hispanic heritage.
"It's magnificent," said Sergio Gatria, co-founder, director, and head of public relations for the Cuban parade. "We're very happy that all of the Cuban and Latin communities came out to attend. It's a parade that every year is bigger than the last."
From North Bergen to Union City, Cuban flags were waving up and down Bergenline Avenue as salsa music blasted from the 12 floats made up of some of the parade's biggest corporate sponsors.
Founded by members of the Latin American Kiwanis of Mid-Hudson, the Cuban Parade of New Jersey tradition began in May of 2000 to recognize and celebrate "the achievements and cultural heritage of Cuban-Americans in the state."
According to the official website of the Cuban parade, Cuban-Americans have influenced the political, social, and economic landscape of New Jersey for the last 40 years, and the founding members created the parade to give the Hispanic community an opportunity to recognize and celebrate these achievements.
The first parade had between 10,000 to 15,000 spectators down Hudson County's best known commercial street, Bergenline Avenue, culminating at James J. Braddock Park. Every year since then, participation kept growing. Its second year attracted 20,000 people. By its fourth year the numbers increased to about 40,000. This year was the biggest turnout many had seen yet.
"It doubled, maybe tripled in size," said Emilo Del Valle, founder and CEO of the parade. "It's fantastic; the turnout was great even though the weather wasn't. I'm very happy. What can I say?"
Also, as in years before, the Cuban Parade has attracted some of the most prominent and recognized names in the Hispanic community, from high-ranking politicians to some of television's favorite celebrities. This year, some of the parade's most distinguished guests included Rep. Robert Menendez and New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey.
"It's a great celebration. The Cuban-Americans are one of the oldest Hispanic communities in New Jersey," McGreevey said. "It's a day of celebrating families, faith, heritage, and great food. I'm eating my way through the parade. I love it!"
McGreevey also recognized the accomplishments of some of the prominent Cuban-American leaders that have come out of Hudson County, including Robert Menendez, first Cuban American Speaker in Congress, and West New York Mayor and Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, who heads New Jersey's Cuban Task Force dedicated to the liberation of Cuba.
"That is something we must all work toward every day," said McGreevey.
Walking alongside their fellow community and state leaders were Union City Mayor Brian Stack and his board of commissioners, and West New York Mayor Albio Sires with members of his administration.
"I'm very happy that the governor came to walk with us," said Sires.
Of course, the politicians were not the only recognized faces in the parade. Longtime and well-respected broadcast journalists such as Univision's Rafael Pineda and Telemundo's Odalys Molina served as the Padrino and Madrina (Godfather and Godmother) of the parade.
"I have the honor of participating in an activity which makes me feel more and more proud of being Cuban," said Pineda, who has been godfather of the parade for the last four years.
The parade, of course, would not be complete without the grand marshals, and this year's chosen marshals caused quite a gossip. They were none other than Spanish TV's biggest and favorite celebrity gossips, Raul de Molina and Lili Estefan, otherwise known as "El Gordo" y "La Flaca" (The Scoop and the Skinny).
Infamous among the Hispanic community, Molina and Estefan host co-host their daily gossip/talk program on Univision Channel 41.
"I'm really happy," said Molina. "For me it's an honor to form part of the Cuban Parade. I had also participated in the New York Cuban Parade years ago."
"We know it's a tradition, and I'm honored and happy to share this with all of you," said Estefan. "The community comes first and I'm fascinated by these types of events."
Fans of the pair crowded the doors of Café Babalu on Bergenline Avenue in North Bergen, where the two were attending a luncheon before the parade, hoping to get a glimpse of their favorite gossips. The two finally emerged they greeted their fans and even gave out a few autographs before taking their places in the convertible that would lead them down Bergenline.
A total of 12 floats made their way down Bergenline Avenue beginning at 79th Street, sponsored by corporations like Coca Cola and Bustelo Coffee. The floats also carried representatives from Univision, Telemundo, and the radio station Latino Mix, as well as members and children on the community showing their Cuban pride.
"I thought the turnout was the best we've ever had," said Avilio Alonso, president of the 2004 Cuban Day Parade. "Not only am I proud to represent the Cuban-Americans, which I am first generation, I'm pleased with the turnout. It's amazing and a privilege to know that la Hispanidad [what it means to be Hispanic] is alive and kicking in West New York and Union City."
Many of those in attendance felt the same way.
"I thought it was nice, beautiful," said Andrea Armas of Guttenberg, 20. "It just represents our heritage, its great."
"I am Cuban first and foremost, and this was definitely very beautiful not only for Cubans but for all Hispanics," said Maria Penna of West New York, 66. "We are all brothers and sisters."