BY ADIANNA ALSTON | AC JosepH Media
VINELAND — Thousands of lively participants turned Landis Park into the extension of Puerto Rico Sunday ending the weeklong Festival Puertorriqueno de New Jersey, accompanied by flag-waving supporters, ground-shaking music and a parade that seemed to never end.
Better known as the Vineland Puerto Rican Festival, the event concluded Sunday in a joyful celebration of Puerto Rican heritage and culture.The annual festival, put on by the Festival Puertorriqueño de New Jersey Inc., celebrated its 55th year anniversary. It is believed to be the largest and oldest festival celebrating Puerto Rican culture in the state of New Jersey.
Although the festival was put on hold the last two years due to the coronavirus pandemic, it doesn’t seem to have missed a beat. From the food, vendors, music, entertainment, and amusement rides, there was something for everyone to enjoy.
Leonides Negron, president of Festival Puertorriqueño, spoke of his joy to be back celebrating as well as the impressive size of the crowd.
“I’m so happy,” the longtime parade veteran said. “After the pandemic, we have a lot of people over here. Thanks to God. Because I don’t know how we did it in two months. We started this in April and look at how many thousands of people are here.”
Negron estimated over 15,000 people attended the festival over the past week.
Participants were energized and grateful to resume the celebration of Puerto Rican history and culture including Oriana Weatherington who has served as Señorita Puerto Rico (Miss Puerto Rico) of the festival since 2019.
“It feels really good to be honest. It’s been so nasty being cooped up in the house not being able to have fun. So, to see everyone getting back together showing our culture and our roots is actually amazing,” she said.
Spanish music boomed from all directions and the aroma of ethnic foods filled the air.
For Vineland Firefighter Eliezer Rodriguez, who was born in Puerto Rico, the celebration made him feel right at home. Rodriguez said he has lived in Vineland for nearly two decades but sees his homeland during events like this.
“I was raised like this, so it feels like being back on the island,” Rodriguez said. He said he moved to the area 18 years ago and has attended this festival each year since.
“It’s home now,” he said with a smile as he helped event officials usher parade traffic through the park.
Joceline Ortiz, a member of the Puerto Rican Action Committee (PRAC) of Southern New Jersey has attended the festival ever since she was a young girl.
“When I was young, I used to be a part of the parade,” Ortiz said. “We used to have the plena, bomba, salsa and we used to have the dresses, all the different colors. We would dance up on stage. It was great.”
Ortiz was happy to be able to celebrate for yet another year however feels that some of the culture she was exposed to in her youth is disappearing.
“I feel like we’re missing that culture in the parade,” Ortiz told Front Runner New Jersey. “I feel like we need to bring back those dances. We had so many dance crews and I feel like this generation, we don’t have that anymore. We need to bring that back.”
Negron said he hopes for the festival to continue growing so that more people will have the opportunity to celebrate Puerto Rican culture.
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