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The Puerto Rican Day Parade (also known as the National Puerto Rican Day Parade) takes place annually along Fifth Avenue in New York City, on the second Sunday in June, in honor of the nearly 4 million inhabitants of Puerto Rico and all people of Puerto Rican birth or heritage residing in the mainland U.S.
The parade always attracts many celebrities, both Puerto Rican and of Puerto Rican heritage, and many politicians from the Tri-State area.
The parade marches along Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 86th Street and has grown to become one of the largest parades in New York City, with nearly two million spectators annually making it one of the largest outdoor events in the United States.
The first Puerto Rican Day Parade was held on Sunday, April 13, 1958, in Manhattan, replacing the former Hispanic Day Parade. In 1995, the parade became incorporated as the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and expanded beyond the parade venue itself. The parade now hosts over seven major events throughout the city.
There are dozens of other events that also take place the weekend of the parade that are not sponsored by the National Parade's corporation. One of the longest running is the street fair held one day prior to the parade though the size has changed over the years the heart of the parade has always been at 116th street between Lexington and Second Avenues. In addition to the parade in New York, there are currently over fifty smaller parades that take place throughout the United States.
The parade attracts many New York politicians including mayor Michael Bloomberg, former mayor Rudy Giuliani, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Senator Charles Schumer, and also many political candidates running for office and looking for voters in local, state and national elections. In recent years, the parade has honored several Puerto Rican celebrities by naming them "International Grand Marshal" of the parade including singer Marc Anthony, who participated in the parade with along his ex-wife Jennifer Lopez, and Ricky Martin in 2007 and 2010.
In addition to a National Grand Marshal, a variety of honorees are named for the parade, with titles such as "King", "National Ambassador of La Salsa", and "National Godmother." In June 2004, Puerto Rican rapper Ivy Queen was designated as the "Puerto Rico Youth Godmother" of the parade. Others to be given such titles include Wisin & Yandel and Willie Colón.
The parade itself has been featured in an episode of the NBC situation comedy Seinfeld titled "The Puerto Rican Day." In it, Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza, Elaine Benes, and Cosmo Kramer get stuck in a traffic jam as a result of the parade. Due to controversy relating to a scene in which Kramer accidentally burns and then stomps on a Puerto Rican flag and is chased by a mob of angry Puerto Ricans, NBC refused to air the episode again. The episode was also withheld from syndication as a result, but has been shown sparingly in syndicated repeats since 2002 and has been released on DVD along with all of the sitcom's episodes.
The parade was portrayed in a negative aspect following the controversial 2000 parade in an 2001 episode of the long-running NBC crime series Law & Order titled "Sunday in the Park with Jorge". Before the National Puerto Rican Coalition protested the episode, network executives issued an apology. The company also made a pledge to "improve our procedures regarding sensitive programming issues."
During recent years, the presence of gangs such as the Latin Kings, the Bloods and the Crips have been recorded at the event. On June 11, 2000, there were a number of arrests that were result of the assault of many women in Central Park, mainly by African-American and Dominican men after the parade. The attacks, which were videotaped by onlookers, led to the arrest and prosecution of many of those involved. Manuel Vargas, a Dominican American who was the suspected ringleader, was quoted by the press as saying he "was just having fun".
In June 2010, controversy arose after organizers selected telenovela actor Osvaldo Ríos, who served three months in a Puerto Rican prison in 2004 for assaulting his former girlfriend after a domestic violence incident as the parade's "International Godfather." Many confirmed participants such as U.S. Representative Luis Guiterrez and corporate sponsors such as Verizon withdrew their participation and endorsements due to his controversial past. After mounting pressure from both the media, politicians, public officials, and domestic violence organizations, Rios decided to not attend the parade after discussing the matter with his children and U.S. Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez. He was replaced at the last minute by singer Marc Anthony, who was accompanied by his then wife Jennifer Lopez.
In past interviews, actor and comedian John Leguizamo had always claimed Puerto Rican ancestry via his father's side, which was one of the reasons that he was selected as the 2011 Puerto Rican Day Parade Global Ambassador of the Arts. On June 10, 2011, Leguizamo's father, Albert, declared in an interview published in El Diario La Prensa, a Spanish-language newspaper published in New York, that he was not Puerto Rican, but of Colombian ancestry, contradicting his son's past claims of his Puerto Rican ancestry. In response to his father's allegations, Leguizamo stated in an interview, that his grandfather was of Puerto Rican descent. A spokesman for the National Puerto Rican Day Parade stated that Leguizamo would not be stripped of his ambassadorship, allowing him to participate in the June 2011 parade.
The theme of the 2015 parade will have a strong historical focus. The year 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, who spent 25 years in prison and dedicated his entire life to the independence of Puerto Rico.