Monday, June 12, 2017

UFT at Puerto Rican Day Parade

On the left is UFT VP Evelyn de Jesus and me. Evelyn is really cool in that she keeps asking me to do stuff, and I kind of like to do stuff. A few months ago we went to the NYSABE conference, where I was surrounded by hundreds of people who were focused on the kids I work with every day. Last month she dragged me to picket with Lawrence teachers, where I learned that their school district had been taken over by people who had no concern whatsoever for public schools. Yesterday we went to the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which was amazing for a number of reasons.

One reason is it was a little controversial this year. A lot of people were upset that they were honoring Oscar Lopez, condemned in the press for acts of which he was never directly accused. Juan Gonazalez says Puerto Ricans should honor anyone they wish, and I agree. As it happens, UFT leadership does too, and I'm very happy about that. They made the right call here. Governor Cuomo, as a result of his perpetual calculations on What Best to Do if I Want to Be President, wasn't there, and I, for one, was glad to not see him.

Not many people know this about me, but I'm not Puerto Rican, not even a little bit. I tried to talk a Puerto Rican teacher in my building to come along, so as to establish some sort of indirect street cred, but she said she couldn't make it. My Puerto Rican friend Aixa was off in Seattle or Chicago or someplace doing Very Important Stuff. But I was able to speak Spanish with some folks, at least.

This thing on the right is a fan, and there were thousands of them on the float. Evelyn said to give them to children and elderly people, who most needed them. I tried to do that, but people are obsessed with free stuff. Sometimes, as I tried to hand these cardboard fans to children, adults would reach and grab them from the kids. One mother grabbed one from her own daughter.

Though the police did not march, perhaps in protest of Oscar Lopez being honored, we gave them bottles of water as they worked through the sweltering heat. In front of a church we met a couple of cops with dogs. I gave one cop a bottle of water, and he opened the cap and poured it into his dog's open mouth. I then gave him one for himself. The other cop, though, was mad about something, and refused water for both himself and his dog. He reminded me of an AP I know. A dog shouldn't have to work for that cop, or that AP either.

If you were in the crowd, this is what you saw as UFT approached. But you also heard really loud Puerto Rican music, except in front of the church. People in churches don't necessarily want to listen to really loud music. There were a bunch of people on the float, mostly dancing, led by Evelyn de Jesus. Now somewhere around 75th Street we ran out of water, having given it all away to cops and their dogs. There was a little less dancing at that point, but some guy on the flatbed of the truck pulling the float danced the entire route. I was duly impressed.

People on the street were very cool, screaming "Maestros!" at us. They were especially happy when they got free stuff. Though I was handing out fans, there were also bandanas, t-shirts, and whistles. You'd think they were made of gold. On the train ride home with my friend Alexandra there were a bunch of crazy teenagers, and I was horrified to hear they all seemed to have UFT whistles. I mean, I didn't mind them having the whistles, but they demonstrated them pretty much all the way to Jamaica. I'm pretty sure I won't be handing out whistles in my classroom anytime soon.

An interesting thing, to me at least, was one of the signs on the UFT float, which someone pointed  out  to me was in Spanish. You see that? Now I may be just some gringo wearing a Puerto Rican t-shirt, but that's the UFT slogan, "A Union of Professionals." Actually, though, that translates to "A union of teachers and professionals." I'm not sure what that suggests. Does it mean the counselors and paraprofessionals are professionals and we aren't? After all, they're paraprofessionals and we're just teachers. Should we be teacherprofessionals? Or does it just mean that English teachers like me can be equally obnoxious and nitpicking when we speak other languages? I can accept that, I guess.

Finally, here's a picture of LeRoy Barr, not in a suit. I said, "Hey, LeRoy, you're not in a suit." He pointed out that it was 90 degrees outside. I was glad we were not at an Executive Board meeting, because then we'd have had to debate it. I was unprepared to argue the point. LeRoy's teenage son was there as well. Like me, he was on fan detail. He was very good at finding kids to give fans to, and frequently got to them before I could. Sometimes I can win arguments with teenagers but I wouldn't want to challenge them to foot races.

This was a very cool event. Not being Puerto Rican, and never having been asked before, I'd never been. But it was a lot more lively and fun than the Labor Day Parade, which I go to sometimes. (I missed it this year, as five people told me they wanted to go, and one by one they dropped out. I think I followed their lead and stayed home and watched cartoons or something.)

But next year, if there's another Puerto Rican day parade, I'm gonna go for sure, and I'm gonna drag some of my Puerto Rican friends with me, whether they like it or not. After all, if it weren't for them I wouldn't even be going myself. And I hope Governor Cuomo doesn't come again, because any day I don't have to see Governor Cuomo is pretty much a good day.
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