Big turnout for Meriden’s Puerto Rican Festival Sunday despite early budget snags

MERIDEN — Thousands spent Sunday at the 47th annual Puerto Rican Festival at Hubbard Park, enjoying carnival rides, music, food, and a family atmosphere.

The west-side park was studded with the red, white and blue of the Puerto Rican and American flags. Traditional Spanish music played and the smoke of food cooking perfumed the area near the band shell.

“I come for the music, basically,” said Jessica Romero, of Waterbury. “I remember listening to this music with my dad growing up, and it just brings back good memories.”

Performers included Alfred Rivera and Amor y Cultura, playing traditional Spanish music; Luis Javier y Myra Luz and La Orquestra Sensacional, of Florida, who performed rhythm and blues; and Hector Y Su Mocion Tropical. Headlining the show was Paquito Acosta y su Orquesta, of Puerto Rico and Florida.

Festivalgoers danced with friends and family in front of the band shell, and many brought lawn chairs to sit and enjoy the outdoor concert.

“Plus it’s nice to have some family time,” Romero said, gesturing to two family members with whom she was walking around the festival.

The family atmosphere was a big draw for many, including Gabriel Mendez, of Meriden.

“I love seeing everyone,” Mendez said. “I see people here that maybe I haven’t seen in a couple years,” he added, listing aunts, uncles, and cousins that he’d seen.

Long lines formed outside tents selling clothing and artwork emblazoned with the Puerto Rican flag, and people perused fresh produce.

The festival was in jeopardy earlier this year when Mayor Manny Santos vetoed a $7,000 budget line item with funds for the Puerto Rican Festival and the Black Expo. The City Council voted to override the mayor’s veto and restore $3,000, which was used for this year’s festival.

Santos, who attended Sunday’s festival said that while he enjoyed it — “Not only is it an opportunity for Puerto Ricans to come celebrate their culture and heritage, it’s a chance for them to share it with everyone else” — he stood by his veto.

“I don’t think there should be funds allocated for specific festivals,” Santos said. “It seems to me that there could be some problems in the future. What if we start having an Italian festival or a Portuguese festival? Would we need to fund those, too? I believe festivals should be self-sufficient, and that if there is a big community that supports it, they should be raising money for it to happen,” Santos said.

He added that the city “would always help with overtime for police” at the festivals, but remained staunch that the funds should not come from a festival-specific account in the budget. (203) 317-2279 Twitter: @MollCal

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