New York City's Fifth Avenue was awash in the red, white and blue of the Puerto Rican flag on Sunday as the Puerto Rican Day parade stepped off under gray skies.
The crowds were thinner on many blocks than in previous years, which some attributed to the thunderstorms forecast for the afternoon. But Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. insisted the crowd was still "2 million strong, like every year."
Salsa bands and dancers shimmied up the avenue on colorful floats as spectators sounded vuvuzelas, the noisemakers that caught on during the 2010 World Cup.
"We're here because we love to be with our people and get in touch with our culture," said spectator Vanessa Velez, 22.
Roberto Cruz, 46, arrived at a spot along the parade route at 7 a.m. to be as close to the marchers as possible. He said the event is special this year because President Barack Obama is scheduled to be in Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
"It was about time," Cruz said. "Let's see if the government can give us more jobs and more education. Unemployment is too high."
Obama's visit to the island, the first by a president in decades, is extremely important, said U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez.
"It is important that the president gets a chance to listen to different sectors in Puerto Rico and see Puerto Rico's reality," said Velazquez, a Brooklyn Democrat. "During his presidential campaign he said he wanted to be also the president of the Puerto Ricans in the island. This is a good moment to tackle the problems that affect Puerto Rico, mostly in the economic and environmental sectors."
Entertainer John Leguizamo was named global ambassador to the arts for the parade, which also included such elected officials as Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
City Comptroller John Liu said Puerto Ricans have made great contributions to New York City for generations, including in the areas of commerce, culture and education. "I myself am proud to have been nicknamed a Chino-Rican," the Taiwan-born Liu joked.
The parade has been an annual event in New York since 1958 and has grown to be one of the city's largest.
The theme for this year's parade was "celebrating the natural beauty of Puerto Rico." It was also dedicated to the city of Cabo Rojo, celebrating its 240th birthday.
Noemi Nieves, a 54-year-old retired secretary, waved the flag of Cabo Rojo, where her brother lives. She has lived in New York for 35 years but goes back to visit Puerto Rico every year.
"It's beautiful," she said of the parade as a troupe of young women in colorful dresses danced by.