Although the chilly air felt more like March than June, people came out last weekend to march in and view the 2017 The Hudson County Cuban Day Parade, which starts in North Bergen and runs through Guttenberg and West New York to end in Union City.
Held each June and often just prior to the Democratic primary, the event always gets a bit drenched in local politics, serving as a barometer of the popularity of local and even state level politicians. Over the last decade, the parade has been tinged with political intrigue.
In 2007, Sal Vega, then mayor of West New York, tried to prevent the parade from running through West New York because of political differences with State Senator and Union City Mayor Brian Stack, against whom Vega was running for state Senate. In 2012, parade officials refused to allow West New York Felix Roque to march up front because he arrived late, in violation of the parade rules.At the time, Roque was seen as the “bad boy” of North Hudson politics and at odds with U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez.
“It’s really good to see everybody from every nationality supporting the Cubans and their cause.” — Felix Roque
In 2015, the parade became a show of support for U.S. Senator Robert Menendez, who had recently been indicted on charges of corruption. Although his court trial looms, Menendez did not appear in the 2017 parade, and most of the floats were dedicated to local businesses, arts and music groups.
“We all get along peacefully now,” Roque said. “Things are good politically.”
But underlying the parade was concern over international events, especially problems rising up in Venezuela.
“It’s kind of sad to see what is happening there,” said Roque. “It’s like a mirror image of what happened in Cuba in the ’50s and ’60s. We had two women from Venezuela walking with us. One was a doctor and she was telling me about the problems there, the oppression, the hunger and lack of jobs.”
Although the temperature was below normal, the participants were in good cheer.
“It’s really good to see everybody from every nationality supporting the Cubans and their cause,” Roque said.
The event is designed to allow the Cuban community to show its culture, and this translated to music and dance. Floats featured beautiful women, loud music, and amazing color.
The parade was held on June 4, starting in James Braddock Park in North Bergen, and concluded at 43rd Street and Bergenline Avenue in Union City with a reviewing stand ceremony.
The route of the parade covered the core business district of Bergenline Avenue, considered one of New Jersey’s premier commercial strips.
Organizers said The Cuban Parade and Festival of New Jersey well met its principal objectives: to celebrate the Cuban-American community’s rich cultural heritage, history and traditions, to increase public awareness of the community’s contributions in public service, business, and the arts, and to provide businesses an opportunity to show their support and promote their products and services.
The first parade was celebrated in May 2000 when it drew between 3,000 to 5,000 spectators and a number of corporate sponsors. Since then,both the size of the crowds and the number of sponsors have multiplied.
The event is seen as the kickoff for a series of summer events celebrating various aspects of Latin culture. Local towns often host flag-raisings and other events to celebrate the various countries from which resident immigrated.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.