PEF presence noted in National Puerto Rican Day Parade
By DEBORAH A. MILES
The 61st annual National Puerto Rican Day Parade flaunted its usual joyful party atmosphere with an endless sea of people transforming Fifth Avenue in Manhattan into a marching cultural event. People danced, waved flags, floats became alive with amplified jibaro music and the beautiful strumming of a cuatro, which is a 10-string guitar and the island’s national instrument.
This year a solemn, grim backdrop melted within the crowd. Along with the colorful and festive merriment, marchers wore T-shirts and carried banners emblazoned with the number 4,645+, representing the estimated death toll after Hurricane Maria made landfall on that unforgettable September 20 day last year.
PEF members participated in this celebration of cultural pride and ethic heritage with a float designed by PEF’s Hispanic Committee, which was later nominated as “Best Ethnic Float.”
“We focused on the color white for the float as a symbol for neutrality, and included the PEF colors of blue and yellow. Our group dressed in white and wore white fedora hats.
My goal was to create community awareness of PEF. I wanted our union to be seen and heard, as so much of what our members do affects the citizens of our state. We have the potential to connect to people not only in the state, but on a national level,” said committee chair Melissa Lasanta-Edwards, an intensive case manager/care coordinator at Manhattan Psychiatric Center.
“We invited all the PEF nurses who went to Puerto Rico as float honorees. They are Carolyn Cole, Justin Farrier, Doug Massey, Llamara Padro-Milano, Patricia Trowbridge and Susan Williams. Three participated in the parade, as the others were unable to get work release time.
“They were among the first nurses to arrive and are considered heroes within PEF as they volunteered their time and nursing skills on the island just after Maria left its trail of destruction. Their valuable information was also passed on to Gov. Cuomo’s office.”
The nurses were interviewed by a WCBS radio reporter and spoke about their experiences and concerns.
“The number of people who died is still rising,” Cole said. “We witnessed so much destruction when we were there, and we want our voices heard as the people of Puerto Rico still need our help. The Harvard University study and its findings that the actual death toll far exceeds the official death toll inspired us to be a part of this parade.”
In a PEF news release, Padro-Milano said, “The theme of this parade “Un Pueblo, Muchas Voces” (One Nation, Many Voices) is a reminder that this event is about cultural pride and an opportunity to share our stories. The public needs to know we lost precious lives due to a delay in emergency services and lack of medical care. I ask you to be an activist, volunteer your time, donate goods and supplies and never forget.”
PEF President Wayne Spence said, “This parade represents a passion for solidarity. As a nation, we must continue to recognize and respond to what has happened in Puerto Rico.
“I am so proud of these nurses and all of PEF’s heath care workers. We will not only stand by them at this event, but will continue to fight to get them pay equity and proper staffing levels.
“PEF’s participation in this tremendous parade symbolizes our motto, “We are stronger together,” not only for our union, but for the people of Puerto Rico.”