By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

VINELANDJennifer Negron stepped out of her Cumberland County Sheriff’s deputy uniform in exchange for a yellow-vest volunteer wear for the Puerto Rican Festival of Vineland on Sunday as she helped great the large crowd at Landis Park on the final day of the week-long celebration.

Negron, one of the event coordinators for the festival, gushed at the large crowd that virtually covered every corner of the sprawling city park that held the 56th annual Festival Puertorriqueno de Vineland. Many vehicles were adorned with Puerto Rico flags or the colors of the island territory.

Highlighting the great culture and leadership in South Jersey’s Hispanic community.

“Look at this, all of these people,” said Negron with a smile on her face. “We brought all of these people out, from Landis Avenue to Landis Park. I’ve been doing this since I was 15 years old and it’s always been great.”

Festival President Leonides Negron estimated the crowd Sunday at Landis Park to be from 8,000 and 10,000 people. There was little reason to doubt that number as throngs of visitors filed in their vehicles for the parade and this lined up for food vendors and gift vendors and resource booths.

The air was filled with Latino music, both by deejays and live performers, giving the distinct festival feeling and comradery of Puerto Rico to the heart of Vineland again. This is the second year for the festival since the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down for two years.

Vineland’s Puerto Rican Festival was arguably the largest celebration of the island culture in the state before the pandemic. Negron said the crowds this past week returned to the level that gained the celebration that kind of notoriety.

“I’m really proud of the way people have come back to the festival,” said Leonides Negron. “It shows how important it is to share our culture.”

Festival Vice President Eligio Rodriguez said he would like to see more sponsors come to the table to get involved.

“They can’t stop us because we’re going to make it better every year,” Rodriguez said. “I think the best part of the festival is seeing the people become united and we’re going to be here forever.”

“We need more sponsors from the big corporations and supermarkets that benefit from the Hispanic community,” Rodriguez said. “They should come out and celebrate with us.”

Vineland has one of the largest percentages of Puerto Rican descendants in the state. Festival Secretary Myrta Cabrera said it’s one of the reasons why the festival is so important to people here.

“After all the obstacles we’ve faced, we are still present and fighting for our rights,” Cabrera said. “This is our people, and we want to show how proud we are to be Puerto Rican. This turnout is amazing. They know whatever we do is front the heart and we will continue to fight to make it better each year.”

Despite only starting his State Farm business in Vineland seven months ago, Oscar Garcia felt the Puerto Rican Festival was a can’t-miss event.

“We wanted to be part of the community,” Garcia said after moving to Vineland from North Jersey. “I can’t describe the feeling being here. I’m kind of sad that it’s ending today. I wish it could go on a little longer. This is a beautiful community and it’s amazing to be here.”

Ediana Martinez and Damian Martinez, of Essential Senior Benefits, sounded a similar tone of wanting to reach out into the Latino community and felt the festival was an ideal venue to do just that.

“We wanted to bring needed resources to the community,” Ediana Martinez said. “A lot of times, our communities don’t know about these resources.”

Marisol Jamison of PRAC of Southern New Jersey, said their table introduced people to the services their nonprofit provides along with promoting their own music event in Wildwood. Aug. 11-12.

“This is a fantastic turnout to see everyone here supporting the Puerto Rican community,” Jamison said.

Leonides Negron said putting on an event like this was a team effort. Other members of the Festival Puertorriqueno de Vineland includes Treasurer Nelcy Jimenez, Aleika Caban Cabrera, Esperanza Morales, Leonides Negron Jr., Jennifer Negron, Marilee Negron, Felicita Negron, Jose Ruiz Jr., and Stephanie Gonzalez.

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