PALM BAY – Thousands of people lined the sun-splashed streets of Palm Bay on Nov. 4, cheering on celebrants, tiara-wearing beauty queens and students marching and dancing in the 16th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade.
The yearly spectacle, sponsored by United Third Bridge, Inc., is one of the largest cultural festival draws in Palm Bay, with participants coming from as far as New York City and Miami.
“The parade was spectacular,” said Armando Martinez, owner of the Gallery Latin Night Club.
“We saw a huge amount of Puerto Ricans, but what I most liked was that there were people from other ethic groups,” he added.
“The Latin unity that we have here in our community makes us stronger.”
The weather was cool and sunny, with a light breeze carrying the traditional scents of skewered pork and fried tostones and empanadas across the parade grounds in front of the Palm Bay City Hall Complex on Malabar Road.
Parade goers, some wearing stylized red, white and blue Puerto Rican-flag t-shirts, listened to the thumping sounds of salsa music over the loudspeakers and watched as an older woman with a broad smile joyfully twirled and danced with friends.
Others waited in the shade of trees lining the complex entryway, chomping on hot empanadas or chatting as they waited for the 2 p.m. parade to begin.
“Even though I came a little bit late, I saw a great parade,” said Carmen Ponce.
“I think it was the best I have ever seen, with so many floats and people participating.”
The parade was preceded by a banquet dinner and the Taino Awards dance, both sponsored by UTB, which were held at the Hilton Melbourne Rialto on Friday, Nov. 2. The next day, a groundbreaking ceremony and tour of the Juan Ponce de Leon Landing in Melbourne Beach continued the celebratory spirit that led up to the parade.
The parade route wound along the eastbound lane of Malabar Road past hundreds of people, and turned into the city hall complex where the celebration continued as participants in colorful costumes strolled the grounds chatting with friends and strangers alike.
“This has been the largest Puerto Rican Parade I have ever seen in 16 years,” said Rafy Contreras, director of the 702 Band, which participated in the event.
“The event after the parade was great too, full of people from all nationalities.”
There were a number of vendors, including those selling artwork, scarves, tangy pineapple drinks, and jewelry emblazoned with the Puerto Rican flag.
“Everybody seemed to have a great time,” Contreras said.