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NYC celebrates Puerto Rican Day

New York's Fifth Avenue pulsed with tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans gathered for the 50th anniversary of the parade that celebrates their island.

Pop star Ricky Martin, named king of the parade, joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a ceremonial ribbon cutting before ascending a float that promoted the Ricky Martin Foundation, which advocates for child welfare around the world.

Fans screamed as the float made its way up the avenue. "We were about to pass out, we were so happy to see him," said Tania Ochoteco, 33, of the Bronx.

More screams greeted last year's grand marshals Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez, who made a surprise repeat appearance on separate floats.

New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Puerto Rican Gov. Anibal Acevedo-Vila joined Bloomberg at the head of the parade. Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, megaphone in hand, urged the crowd in Spanish to wave their red, white and blue Puerto Rican flags.

"I think the most impressive thing is that people love to be living here and be part of New York and be New Yorkers; at the same time, they're very proud of their heritage, of where they come from," Bloomberg said. "And that's what makes this country unique among countries."

There were marching bands, beauty queens and uniformed city workers dancing to salsa blaring from scores of floats.

TV personality Geraldo Rivera held a flag in one hand and a microphone in the other.

A contingent from Ponce, Puerto Rico's second-largest city after San Juan, marched in ruffled Carnival costumes called vejigantes.

"We're all excited," said Sarai Rivera, who took off her papier-mache mask long enough to say that she had traveled from Ponce to attend the parade for the first time.

Although it was impossible to estimate the crowd, hundreds of thousands have attended in recent years.

There are 2.1 million Hispanics living in New York, and Puerto Ricans are the largest Hispanic group in the city, numbering 789,000, according to city figures.

The idea for the parade first developed in the early 1950s and was a pan-Latino affair at the time. It later became a solely Puerto Rican parade.

Angel Lugo, 34, wedged in with other spectators behind police barricades, said it was worth the trip from his home in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

"I'm from Puerto Rico, you know?" he said.

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