Residents show Puerto Rican pride ahead of annual parade in New York City

EAST HARLEM, Manhattan (WABC) -- Although the National Puerto Rican Day Parade this year will be virtual, it's not stopping local residents from being proud and celebrating their heritage.

Gerardo Cruz, of East Harlem, has a 25-year tradition to maintain, selling all sorts of Puerto Rican flags, shirts and trinkets.

The days leading up to the second Sunday in June represent his busiest time of the year.

"A lot of people want to celebrate our National Puerto Rican Day Parade," Cruz said. "They're going do the picnic, the party, no matter what. But they are still buying merchandise."

Resident Gilberto Gilberto says "no matter what," they are celebrating.

"It could be in the park, it could be in your bathroom, it could be anywhere," Gilberto said. "En casa de una abuela (there's gonna be a party), regardless."

A party and celebration is so desperately needed.

In the last few years, people on the island have suffered through destructive hurricanes, powerful earthquakes and a global pandemic.

But now, after strict coronavirus lockdowns and an island-wide vaccination effort, the many people who left the island are now free to return and visit their loved ones.

"We are definitely seeing a big homecoming of folks in the diaspora coming back and reuniting with their families," said Yarimar Bonilla. "Folks who have migrated recently as well are coming back."

Bonilla is the incoming director of the Center for Puerto Rican studies at Hunter College.

The center - established in 1973 as the nation's premier Puerto Rican think tank and research facility - will host WABC-TV's live parade broadcast special beginning Sunday at noon.

RELATED: National Puerto Rican Day Parade special to air on WABC-TV

"We're also excited to open the center back up and open up the libraries back to the public," Bonilla said. "So we think that even if this parade is virtual, I think it is a moment of celebration that we will soon be coming back together in person."

Residents like Nixza Jurado says the community really needs it.

"Everybody should get together and celebrate our appreciation that we are Nuyoricans and Puerto Ricans, and we all get together and help each other out."

On the streets of East Harlem - and in other Puerto Rican neighborhoods across the United States - the anticipation surrounding Sunday's event is high, a much-needed time to celebrate the laughter and joy, family and friends, strength and resilience of some very proud people.

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