By Staff Writer
On August 19th, 2017, the 15th Annual Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day Parade of WNY will be held in downtown Buffalo. The parade began in 2003 as a celebration of the Puerto Rican community. It is held the third week in August each year.
Over the last 15 years, the parade and subsequent activities associated with it have grown and attracted larger crowds. This year, it is expected to draw in excess of the 2000 participants and 70 organizations that took part in 2016.
Yolanda Martinez-Rodriguez, the current President of the parade’s steering committee, spoke with us about the parade’s history and activities. For starters – like any parade, Yolanda and the steering committee select a Grand Marshall annually. They also select scholarship winners. Since 2004, the parade committee has given out a scholarship: “the parade developed the Miss Borinquen Leadership Development Scholarship Program in 2004 for less fortunate young ladies.”
When asked about the support given to the parade by the Buffalo community over the last few years, Martinez-Rodriguez said, “we are a community that does not have a lot of money so the parade board works hard to have sponsors donate money so that we can bring in great musical acts to the LaSalle Park for a free concert. Mayor Byron Brown and the council members, such as Council Majority Leader David Rivera, Council President Darius Pridgen are very supportive of us. This year we are bringing in Grammy winner and well known artist Tito Nieves. We are also bringing in Frankie Negron and N’Klabe who are also Grammy nominated artists.”
In the last five years, the parade has experienced some big changes. In 2012, “and Hispanic” was added to the parade name, giving the parade its current name and focus. Charles F. Torres believed the parade and connected activities needed to be inclusive of all Hispanic with the changing community. “Since becoming inclusive of all Hispanics, it is beautiful to see all the colorful flags parade day as we march down Avenida San Juan/Niagara Street,” Martinez-Rodriguez says.
Yolanda Martinez-Rodriguez was the first woman elected president of the parade committee in 2015. Since then, she has brought on sponsors including General Motors, Goya, Watkins Glen International – as well as NASCAR and Indi Cars: “with the support of the City of Buffalo and the companies that sponsor the parade, they have been able to bring well-know music artist to the annual concert series.”
Shortly after being elected President, Martinez-Rodriguez founded the young men’s program, Jr. Grand Marshal Scholarship Program. The scholarship is intended to help lower-income men in the Puerto Rican and Hispanic community.
Martinez-Rodriguez says it makes her “very proud to be able to bring joy to our Hispanic brothers and sisters if just for a weekend. I would like for this parade to continue to grow and to educate all Hispanics that we are ONE. Yes, we should be proud of our own cultural backgrounds, but it is more satisfying to embrace others cultural backgrounds and to celebrate all of the Hispanic Countries.”
The 15th Annual Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day Parade of WNY will take place on Saturday, August 19th, 2017, starting at 1:00pm in front of Buffalo City Hall. The parade will march north on Niagara Street. Following the parade, there will be food and a concert at LaSalle Park. The concert will feature various artist as well as dance performers, and it will be free of charge to the public.