Puerto Rican pride filled Manhattan on Sunday for the annual 61st annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, while shining a spotlight on the struggles the island continues to face after Hurricane Maria and celebrating the people who have aided emergency and recovery efforts.
"It makes me feel sad that still to this day there's people without electricity, still without water, roads are really bad — I was just there in April and the conditions are still bad," one parade-goer said. "People are still trying to keep their spirits up, but we need help. The island needs a lot of help."
"I think it's very important, especially given the response that was given to Puerto Rico after the storm," said another. "This is just the perfect opportunity for everyone to really show how much help is really needed and just to have their voices heard and have something done about it."
More than two million people were expected to line the streets for the parade that marched up Fifth Avenue. It started at 44th St. and ended on 79th St.
The celebration on Sunday on Fifth Avenue featured floats, musicians, and brightly-colored costumes. Some parade-goers have draped Puerto Rican flags over their shoulders.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Manhattan City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, and City Council Speaker Corey Johnson were among the dignitaries on hand for the event.
The annual celebration of Puerto Rican culture this year had a theme of "Un Pueblo, Muchas Voces," which translates to "one nation, many voices." Organizers said the parade honored first responders and others who stepped up to help with both emergency efforts and ongoing recovery work.
Along the parade route in the heart of Manhattan, people also carried signs with tributes like "New York Stands with Puerto Rico," ″You will not be forgotten" and "Decolonize Puerto Rico."
Nora Ortiz of Brooklyn, and other parade-goers, voiced frustration over what they said was an under-reporting of the death toll in Puerto Rico and a tepid emergency response by the administration of President Donald Trump.
A recent study from Harvard University estimated there were up to 4,600 more deaths than usual in the three months after Hurricane Maria, although some independent experts questioned the methods and the number in that study. The official federal death toll is at 64.
"We're part of the United States. We are Americans, and I think that I came to represent the fact that no one wants to admit that almost 5,000 lives were lost in Hurricane Maria," Ortiz said.
Julio Pabon led a group of demonstrators who chanted "Respect Puerto Rico" as it passed Trump Tower. They also waved flags in the direction of the luxury high-rise.
"Maria unmasked that we are a colony," said Pabon, 66, of the Bronx. "I'm just tired of the way my island has been treated."
Like many people, Anya Garcia showed up with her extended family. She said she's been coming to the parade since she was a toddler.
"We're three generations strong here," said Garcia, 35, of Brooklyn. "I now have my daughter into it and so we'll be coming for years to go."
Also on hand was a marching contingent made up of people who are on the U.S. mainland only because they were displaced from their homes on the island.
This year's parade comes a year after a controversial one, when the parade organization's decision to recognize Oscar Lopez Rivera, a former member of a militant group responsible for a series of bombings. That led some sponsors to withdraw their support and some politicians like Cuomo to decline to take part.
Before the parade, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. had said it needed to take a political tone. He and the group he was marching wore black T-shirts that reflect the Harvard study's estimate of the dead.
"It would be a missed opportunity this Sunday...if we don't show an act of solidarity, an act of protest, an act of defiance," he said, "to let the world know we still have a president and Congress that still has not done right by 3.5 million Americans."