The “Magical” Puerto Rican Festivals Of The Early ‘70s in Brown Square Park of Rochester, NY
A Remarkable Time in Reality
It was like magic.
Amusemark-park rides, food of every shape, taste, and color beyond measure, and abundant fun at every turn seemed to have appeared out of nowhere — as if in some really happy episode of The Twilight Zone.
Was it for real?
Was is actually happening?
As far as I can remember — yep. It did happen.
I was there — in my pre-teen youth, during the summer of 1969, at Brown Square Park, in the inner city of Rochester, New York — before the following fall’s debut of other more reality-based TV classics like The Brady Bunch, Room 222, Love, American Style, and Marcus Welby, M.D.
One minute I was watching my family’s Motorola 19-inch console color TV in the green-plastered living room of our red-brick house at the corner of Erie Street and Warehouse — or I was outside playing Hide-and-Go-Seek in the empty lot across the street with my friends in the neighborhood.
And suddenly, in the next minute — before any of us could say, “Jack Robinson!” — we were flying high in some kind enchanting, make-shift Ferris wheel, with Latin music galore blasting in seemingly-sensurround.
Not In Kansas Anymore
We weren’t in Kansas anymore, that’s for sure, and maybe not even Rochester. But wherever it was, the circus had come to that town. Or it was like we had at least gone to the circus, and that maybe it was all of a sudden up the street, just two blocks away. Or maybe we had landed in some kind of mystical playland that had only been sanctioned for those blessed souls like “Charlie,” or “Willie Wonka” at the fantastical Chocolate Factory?
Who knows, really, other than to say that for about five days or so that summer — from late morning to early evening — I and my little pals were lost in a funhouse of mayhem, a playground of the mind, so then sung by the likes of Glen Cambell, Neil Diamond, and Clint Holmes— with a Latin twist.
Swirls of Cotton candy, globs of gooey candy apples, and mammoth pretzels, glazed with white salt spread, were ingested (Barely!), between bouts of Skee Ball, games of Over-and-Under, and other carnival ice-less Capades that invaded what an a big playground with a central cement pond that we used as a pool but which was originally built as a fountain.
The Carnival Real Deal
In reality (I guess!), it was the Puerto Rican Festival of 1969, which launched that year in Rochester and which, according to a 50th Anniversary newspaper article from 2019 in The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, “…helped to wipe away a lot of those initial feelings of seclusion and isolation” of the Puerto Rican people who were seeking “a better life.”
At the time of this initial festival in Brown Square, other news stories described the Puerto Rican population as “exploding.”
“Rochester’s Hispanic community is almost tripling in size every five years,” another Democrat and Chronicle (D&C) story reported, “…growing at the rate of 275 percent in half a decade.”
The Rochester Chamber of Commerce presents this information on their website:
Since the very first festival in 1969, the Puerto Rican Festival has been a staple of Rochester summers. The Festival is the largest ethnic celebration in Monroe County, drawing on average 7,000 visitors each day. The Festival offers genuine Puerto Rican foods, live music, dancing and competitions like the annual Javier Ortiz 5K run.
The D&C article of 2019 further detailed in the 50th Anniversary story tribute:
The week-long festival was modeled after Fiestas patronales, annual celebrations held in each municipality of Puerto Rico. Heavily influenced by Spanish culture and religion, the celebrations are dedicated to each town’s patron saint.
Tradition also dictated other aspects of the festival that still continue, including a pageant, the crowning of a festival queen, a queen’s ball and a parade.
The Ibero-American Action League ran the festival for years with a lot of help from volunteers. The venue changed several times, and the festival grew larger every year.
Since then, things have stabilized and the Puerto Rican Festival, now celebrating its 50th year, has become the longest consecutively running ethnic festival in Rochester. The festival has been held at Frontier Field’s VIP parking lot since 2007.
It All Fit
Having the Puerto Rican Festival now celebrated in Frontier Field is a good fit for me.
Frontier Field is located across from that red brick house in which I was raised and which still stands, less than a quarter of a mile from Brown Square which hosted the original Puerto Rican gatherings.
It wasn’t all a dream, after all.
It wasn’t The Twilight Zone or some fanciful tale.
It was real.
And it will remain so, in my heart, forever.