Que Bonita Bandera: Puerto Rican Day Parade
The display of la bandera puertorriqueña was pretty common all year long throughout the five boroughs of New York City, waving from car antennas, painted on wall murals, or draped from windows, fire escapes and card hoods; but from the end of May until the middle of June,prior to and during the National Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan (always the second Sunday in June), it reaches its peak. It is hard to walk anywhere in the City without seeing the image proudly displayed or worn. Any item or apparel imaginable is adorned or decorated with the image: umbrellas, shorts, ties, fingernails, hats, jewelry, sunglasses. This was especially true from the late 1990s through the early 2000s. It appears as if this custom may have peaked a few years ago, and during the last few years the flag seems to be less visible in the time period leading up to the parade. This latest trend may have arisen due to do with grassroots and official campaigns intended to make sure the flag is used only in a respectful manner, a decline in the flag fever pitch of those years and recent economic and environmental crises on the island leading many to use a black and white monoestrellada to represent the dual ideas of mourning and resistance.
The Puerto Rican single star flag (la bandera monoestrellada), like all flags, is obviously a political symbol representing the government and political entity of a specific country or nation-state; but for Puerto Ricans on the island and the diaspora communities elsewhere, the island's colonial history and current ambiguous status endows the flag with an added significance as well--that of representing the culture and the essence of puertorriqueñidad (Puerto Ricanness). Since Puerto Rico's colonial status (it is by decree a commonwealth or territory of the United States) makes the necessity of recognizing national identity by a discrete, geographically entity difficult, it is culture with which the community identifies (one can live in San Juan or New York and still be a Puerto Rican). Every ethnic group or nationality attaches importance to the flag representing the country of their origin; attend any one of the multitude of New York City's ethnic parades and you will see flags incorporated into the processions and floats. And in New York City, Puerto Ricans have transformed this cultural expression into an art form.
The idea to document the Puerto Rican flag in all of its manifestations came to when I moved back to New York City six years ago. As I rode the #6 elevated train home through the Bronx, I would spot this flag everywhere--hanging from windows, flying from cars, and painted on murals. Then it was time for the Puerto Rican Day Parade and I saw people everywhere wearing the flag in some form or another. I was moved by the wonderfully inventive and creative ways in which people found to incorporate the Puerto Rican flag in their clothing or on vehicles, so I began to take photos. ¡Que bonita bandera! documents the creativity and passion with which the mainland Puerto Ricans, especially in New York City, express their connection to the flag; the exhibit does not take sides in the frequent debate over its appropriate use and display. Although government guidelines may dictate what is and is not respectful concerning the display of the flag, I believe the popular expressions presented here come from a place of love and admiration which the Puerto Rican community here has for their flag.
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This video was shot by Crockett Doob and Benh Zeitlin for use in the traveling exhibit, "Que bonita bandera: The Puerto Rican Flag as Folk Art" (2002), curated by City Lore folklorist Elena Martinez.
City Lore, Urban Folklore, New York Neighborhood Tours 25, video 42