A happy march goes from Bronx River to East River
A little tiger on a bicycle, a youngster dressed as a flower and marchers young and old, many also in costume, strutted along Lafayette Avenue and down Manida Street to Viele Avenue in this year’s Hunts Point Fish Parade on June 25.
Behind the first wave of marchers, the bicycles of the Classics Bronx bike club gleamed in the summer sun, and crowds watched as a demonstration of community pride and a celebration of change for the better took place on the streets of Hunts Point.
The symbols of that change are two parks that did not exist when the Fish Parade began in 2003 as an uneasy and ironic welcome to the new Fulton Fish Market. Now the Hunts Point Fish Parade and Summer Festival begins at Hunts Point Riverside Park and ends in Barretto Point Park—the visible evidence of successful efforts to reconnect the neighborhood to its waterfront.Perched on a red pickup truck, a giant fish sculpture brought up the rear. As the fish, whose home for the rest of the year is at the headquarters of the parade’s organizer—The Point Community Development Corp.—glided into the last lap, salsa music blasted from a boom box, and the police officer who had been directing traffic as the march entered Viele Avenue began to shimmy to the music.
Marchers and spectators settled in for an afternoon of happy and noisy partying, and many in the crowd of cheering parade-goers remembered how different the neighborhood used to be.
“I’ve been here all my life,” said Aileen Rivera, 36. “It’s beautiful now. Before, it was not too good.”
Soundview resident Robinson Benzan, 41, moved to the South Bronx from Boston 20 years ago. In that time, he says the change has been “unbelievable.”
“It’s a different world from when I first moved to the neighborhood,” Benzan said. “It’s changed completely. Entire zip codes were just abandoned.”
On hand to celebrate was Rep. Jose Serrano, who made a surprise return trip from Washington in order to march. The Fish Parade, he said, is a culmination of the work put in by the community.
“When I first started out in politics, you would never think that this could happen,” Serrano said. “And the beauty of it is that it starts at one success story”–Hunts Point Riverside–“to another success story,”–Barretto Point–he said.
Adam Liebowitz, The Point’s director of community development, has been at the community center for five years, and has worked on the parade in each of those years. To him, the parade is about celebrating the positive changes of the past, while also recognizing the changes that continue to happen.
“We wanted to highlight the parks, highlight the success of getting open space in Hunts Point,” Liebowitz said.
New to the festivities this year was an American Indian Festival, which included traditional Native American arts and crafts, dancing and a drum circle. Bystanders galked at Lucia Hernandez, who wore three parrots on her shoulders as though they were part of her electric blue costume.
Hernandez, head of the Hunts Point American Indian Council, who has been a Hunts Point resident for five years, also spoke of the improvements she’s seen.
“They’ve cleaned the Bronx River, they do a lot of environmental work, and this neighborhood has changed a lot,” she said.
The festival also included information stations of various advocacy organizations, like the Bronx River Alliance and the early education group Jump Start; the Hunts Point Honors, which celebrates local graduates; and a talent show, featuring singing, dancing and an inspired Michael Jackson impersonation.
Also on hand was Teresa Rivera, 17, the winner of the State of Hunts Point Address essay contest, sponsored by The Point. Rivera, who recently graduated from Aquinas High School, has been going to the Point, a place she calls her second home, since she was five.
Her essay focused on the strength of the Hunts Point community. The future, she said, will be determined by continuing advocacy. “Depending on how strong the community is together, is where it will go,” Rivera said.