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BRIDGEPORT Puerto Rican Day Parade Sunday celebrates 25 years

July 5, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — When the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade steps off from Central High School Sunday, organizers will be breathing a sigh of relief.

The event has reached a milestone this year — a quarter century of delighting people along the two-mile-long parade route.

“Putting this together is like assembling a giant jigsaw puzzle,” said Maria Valle, president of the Bridgeport Puerto Rican Parade Committee. “And on Sunday, we’ll put in the final piece.”

The weekend celebration of Puerto Rico includes a flag-raising Friday morning and a gala Saturday night.

The parade itself is scheduled to start at 11 a.m. Sunday at Central high School. After leaving the CHS Madison Avenue gate, the parade will proceed south on Madison, west on North Avenue and South on Park Avenue. The parade will end at Seaside Park.

Festivities won’t end when marchers reach the stately Perry Arch, the gateway to Seaside Park. It will be followed by a music festival in the park that will feature headliner Don Perigñon y la Puertorriqueña, a 14-member ensemble from Puerto Rico, as well as the Latin Heartbeat Orchestra, the group Afinké and many more.

Organizers say it’s more than a celebration of Puerto Rico.

“People from places like Mexico, Spain, El Salvador, Cuba, South America — they’re all looking forward to this,” said Valle. “This is everybody’s parade — it’s a community parade.”

“There’s even a couple from Bosnia — they never miss it,” said Cruzmilda ‘Millie’ Maldonado, who is being honored in this year’s parade. She was one of the founders who put together the existing organization in 1993.

“This is also about fun and harmony,” said Grand Marshal Nick Ortiz.

Maldonado has been president of the Hispanic Merchants Association and she’s a former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. She also owns a beauty salon in the Black Rock section of the city.

Parade organizers already have dispensed with laurels for this year.

“We will start immediately on planning the 2019 parade,” Valle said. “It’s an effort that never stops. The parade is a very expensive undertaking — about $100,000.”

“Yes — all the police overtime,” said Ortiz, a police officer. “That’s a big part of it. And the fundraising continues all year long.”

Money mostly comes from donors and sponsors, Valle said. Some of those involved have speculated that the police overtime issue, which sent the Barnum Festival Parade into Seaside park this year, might eventually have the same effect on the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

City officials have cracked down on police overtime costs in recent months; City Hall isn’t writing checks for all cop overtime costs anymore, even for beloved events like the Puerto Rican Day parade. The city wants organizations to help out with overtime expenses.

Although this is the 25th anniversary, there were Puerto Rican Day parades in Bridgeport before 1993. In those days, the annual event would rotate between Bridgeport and the state’s other major cities — Hartford, New Haven, New London and Waterbury — so it would visit the Park City once every few years. But that statewide organization collapsed in the early 1990s, the organizers said.

jburgeson@ctpost.com

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