Flag-raising ceremony kicks off Puerto Rican week
You couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day to celebrate the 64th annual founder ship of the Puerto Rican Civic Association (PRCA). Festivities kicked off on Aug. 27 and will conclude the following weekend on Sept. 3.
What started in 1959 by founder Freddy Melendez as a community space for Puerto Ricans to come together soon became a place of culture and civic participation. This celebration marks 64 years strong as a vital part of Hammonton’s heritage.
Celebrations began at noon with Mass at St. Joseph Church. Where it was a space for the Puerto Rican community to connect and worship, Hammonton did not shy away from sharing support for the long-standing Puerto Rican community. Among those in attendance was Atlantic County Sheriff Eric Scheffler.
“It’s important for me to be involved in that level because the people can see me a little bit different, I get to see them a little bit different, we get to communicate on a level, and we start seeing that we’re not that different,” Scheffler said. “We can erase our differences and look at our commonalities, they’re able to work together to help other people. And I’ve been able to do that with the Puerto Rican Association.”
During the ceremony, President Edwin Negroni was presented with a proclamation from Councilman Jonathan Oliva.
“This is more than just a celebration of the number of years that has been an important part of our community,” Oliva said. “This celebration pays tribute to the invaluable economic, cultural and religious contributions that the Puerto Rican community within Hammonton has given us.”
After the Mass, a procession paraded down to town hall for the first flag-raising ceremony of the day. Many attendees dressed in the spirit of the celebration, donning dresses and T-shirts representing the flag or Puerto Rican heritage. Negroni was pleased with this spirit after many years in the community.
“Everyone inhabited everyone here today is dressed to be Puerto Rican, to follow the heritage of Puerto Rico, as we do with other groups,” Negroni said. “For example, we did last month, the Italian festival and everyone dressed as Italian and we celebrate you know, fit together as Italian, the culture of Italy that’s the same thing we can do here with the Puerto Rican culture.”
Soon after raising the flag and honoring both the United States and Puerto Rico national anthems, members of town council and the PRCA gave remarks. Among the remarks was Scheffler presenting the PRCA with a $500 check from the Atlantic County Sheriffs’ Department.
Oliva was also proud of what the PRCA has been able to accomplish.
“I’ve said for a long time that what makes Hammonton special are the people in it. The people in the community support each other and that couldn’t be more visible that it is every year during the Mount Carmel or PRCA Festival,” Oliva said. “The members in our community support every chicken barbecue, beef and beer or charity raffle and I think that’s really special.”
Before the end of the ceremony at town hall, Vice President Wanda Hernandez gave the closing remarks, giving gratitude to the community for how the support keeps the association going strong.
The festival continued at the Civic Center with food and another flag-raising ceremony. DJ Teudy Ramirez provided live music while attendees enjoyed local vendors and connecting with each other. The 1973 Puerto Rican pageant titleholder, Josie Sanchez, shared her favorite part of this annual festival.
The ceremony ended later in the evening, with the Puerto Rican community excited for what’s in store for next weekend.
“You always have to remember where you came and you have to keep going and keep just generation after generation doing this with the youngest one,” Josie Sanchez said. “Let them know that guess what, it’s still going we’re still going up so if we do it, they will see it and they will continue to follow our steps.”
One of the most important things about events like this is how much the Puerto Rican Civic Association touched the lives of the community in Hammonton. Hernandez, for instance, reflected on one of her favorite memories being a part of the association.
“One of my best memories, for me was when I was a child and I was here. I would come here all the time with my parents. It was a beautiful thing,” Hernandez said. “And then now to be the Vice President now of the association is the greatest blessing ever.”
President Negroni, among other members of the board showed gratitude to the community throughout the day. The long-standing history that the Puerto Rican Civic Association has stayed strong because of the Hammonton community.
“I thank you everyone for coming in. And of course, I would not be here without the presence of you,” Negroni said.
The festivities will continue on Sept. 2 from noon to 10 p.m. with live music from DJ Teudy Ramirez, Trio Renacer and Swing de Guille. Carmen Rodriguez from Beauty Bar Salon will give out 50 free backpacks with school supplies on a first come, first serve basis at the Puerto Rican Civic Center from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. The festival wraps up on Sept. 3 with live music from DJ Ramirez and Alex la Manga.