Amid the booming melodies of island pop songs and the din of foghorns, honking cars, and jubilant passersby in Sunday’s Puerto Rican Festival parade, Jessica Crespin said one cheer remains her favorite.
“Wepa!” exclaimed the 33-year-old Revere woman to passing folk dancers on Tremont Street, waving her Puerto Rican flag.
“It’s our Puerto Rican salute; it’s how we greet each other,” she said. “I love hearing it.”
Sunday’s parade — the culmination of Boston’s 46th annual celebration of Puerto Rican culture — wound its way from the South End’s Puerto Rican Villa Victoria neighborhood down Tremont Street to Government Center, where police said close to 15,000 enjoyed carnival rides and pineapple fruit drinks in front of City Hall.
In recent years, the parade has ended at Franklin Park, according to Reinelda Rivera, president of the Puerto Rican Festival of Massachusetts. But due to construction in the park this year, spectators were able to watch the floats and dancers proceed through Boston’s historic downtown for the first time since the 1970s.
‘I liked how people would scream every time they saw us.’
“I’ve been told the stretch down Tremont Street to City Hall Plaza is the route of the champions,” said Rivera. “I’m very happy and proud that Puerto Ricans are being recognized by the city of Boston.”
Sixty local groups, including dance troupes, fleets of souped-up cars from local auto shops, and 17 political campaigns filed down Washington Street.
“This is culture, it’s family, it’s my roots — it’s me,” said Crespin, who was born in Boston and whose family hails from Puerto Rico.
Lidy Diaz, 24, of Dorchester, clutched the hem of a 300-foot Puerto Rican flag as she waited to march, dressed in a traditional folk dance outfit. This was her fourth year marching in the parade with Fuerza Internacional Dance Group. “I love to dance,” she said. “It’s my nature and it’s my culture.”
It was 12-year-old Ivan Colon’s first year walking in the parade with Grupo Folklorico, a dance troupe from Holyoke.
“It was nerve-racking at first, but then it was fun,” said Colon, who was dressed in black slacks tied with a red sash and a traditional “pava” straw hat. “I liked how people would scream every time they saw us.”
More than 20 members of Classic Bike Club, a largely Puerto Rican group of bike mechanics in Boston, walked gleaming vintage Schwinn bikes draped in flags and sporting Puerto Rican license plates.
“In the old days, Schwinn [bikes] were all they had in Puerto Rico,” said club secretary Israel Vasquez. “These are the bikes our grandfathers rode.”
Boston resident Joewy Amaro, 32, tied his Puerto Rican flag to one of the trees that lined the Tremont Street side of Boston Common.
“I didn’t have a pole long enough to wave it myself, but I still had to represent,” he said.
He said he and his wife, Kelly Russell, 34, brought their young daughters to the parade to give them a taste of the things he misses from his childhood on the island.
“I miss the culture — how people there can have nothing but still have good intentions and love you and give you as much as they can,” he said. “I want my girls to see that.”
Russell added that the new downtown location was a welcome improvement from the traditional route.
“I think this new location is eye-opening,” she said. “We’ve been approached by lots of curious tourists asking us about the event and what it represents.”
“One of the best parts of today is seeing all of the tourists’ surprised faces; they love it,” echoed Larry Powell, 57, of Dorchester, who has come to the parade nearly every year since it began in 1967. “It’s great to show them a side of Boston they might not otherwise see.”
Boston police Captain Thomas Lee said attendees gave positive feedback about feeling safe at the plaza.
“At Franklin Park in the past there have been some gang-related issues, but there have been no disturbances at the plaza today and it’s very family-friendly,” he said.
It was the first time, he added, that he had seen a carnival in front of City Hall.
“I kind of like it,” he said.