A dozen cars and tractors decked out in Puerto Rican flags trundled down the Atlantic City Boardwalk on Sunday.
The 16th Atlantic County Puerto Rican Parade was a momentary distraction as airborne T-shirts turned the heads of a few tourists before they went about their day. Salsa music receded as quickly as it came as the casinos continued to pipe familiar Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen tunes out to the Boardwalk.
Yvette Soto, president of parade organization, said the group was limited by the city to 20 vehicles this year. But the size of the parade is less important than the act of preserving and promoting a culture.
“The parades bring us together and keep us united as individuals,” said Soto, who oversees the Latin Music Festival that took place at the end of the parade route at New Jersey Avenue.
That festival, which draws acts from around the world, supports the organization’s educational outreach. Each year, Soto said the group provides scholarships to young adults in the community.
“The main focus is educating our children,” she said. “We had uncles and aunts that kept the history and the language alive. We wanted to do the same for our children.”
A handful of spectators in front of Atlantic Club Casino Hotel, where the parade route began, said they were disappointed by the turnout.
Ida Martinez, 49, of Atlantic City, said she wished more people from the Puerto Rican community would come to events such as this one.
“We’re trying to make a difference in our city,” she said. “Instead of the violence, we need to do things to promote peace and love.”
Beyond showcasing Puerto Rican heritage, Martinez said an active community could keep the youth away from drugs and violence.
The sentiment was echoed by Marisol Beltran, 39, of Galloway Township, who brought her teenage sons Fonzy Rivera, 16, and Joey Santiago, 14, to the Boardwalk.
Part of the problem, Beltran said, is a lack of advertising. Few of her Hispanic co-workers and friends knew the parade was happening this weekend, she said.
“It’s in our culture — we’re very proud of where we came from,” she said. “On occasions like this, we all have to come out and show support, but people don’t get involved.”
Rivera said he spent hours creating beaded necklaces using the colors of the Puerto Rican flag to give to paradegoers. Very few turned out.
“It’s kind of upsetting,” he said. “I love the parade, but it’s small.”
Contact Wallace McKelvey:
Follow Wallace McKelvey on Twitter @wjmckelvey