A day of tradition

The 46th annual Puerto Rican Festival welcomed thousands of guests to Bristol Wharf

By Samantha Bambino

The Times

After months of planning and days of obsessively checking the weather forecast, Norma Sullivan can finally relax. As president of the Puerto Rican Cultural Association of Bucks County, it’s her mission to make sure the Puerto Rican Festival, one of Bristol’s largest events, runs as smoothly as possible. And for the third year, she was successful. On Saturday, July 22, an estimated 7,000 people came together along the waterfront to celebrate culture and traditions.

A cultural celebration: Puerto Rican Cultural Association of Bucks County president Norma Sullivan (third from left) poses with festival dancers and performers. On July 22, an estimated 7,000 people came together along the waterfront to celebrate culture and traditions during the annual Puerto Rican Festival. PHOTO: Norma Sullivan

To kick off the festivities, local veterans, members of the PRCABC and all of the dancers and performers proceeded down the hill toward the waterfront as the hit song “Despacito,” made famous by Luis Fonsi, played over the new sound system.

Despite the scorching heat and humidity, the entertainment didn’t stop all day. Dance team Las Sombras got the crowd loosened up with a stellar routine they learned from their choreographer in only a week. Their energy attracted people to their performance area, and they got guests of all ages to join in. The professional salsa dancers of Estilo Dance Studio showed off traditional Puerto Rican styles, while the little girls of Domination Dance Team captivated the audience with their own number.

The main act was TKA, who Sullivan said was the one everyone was waiting to see. The group brought the audience back to the ’90s with freestyle breakdancing, interacted with the crowd and held a surprise meet and greet after. During their set, excited guests clung to the sides of the gazebo to get a better view.

Throughout the day, Paso Fino horses made their way through the crowd. The handlers allowed guests to pose for pictures with the horses and even sit on them. Sullivan reflected on one woman whose childhood dream was to get on a horse, and the festival was able to provide her that opportunity.

A horse, of course: Paso Fino horses made their way through the crowd during the Puerto Rican Festival. PHOTO: Norma Sullivan

At a special children’s tent, kids were able to make crafts, paint Puerto Rican flags and learn about the history and culture. Not too far away, the radio station 101.1 MoreFM provided more child-friendly entertainment. Kids could get free balloon animals, play cornhole and meet its new mascot, Morey the Monkey.

An appearance was made by Miss Puerto Rico, as well as Gabriel Muñoz, who played the cuatro, a Puerto Rican instrument similar to the guitar. Sullivan was able to get in touch with Muñoz last minute and hid him in the crowd to see how long it would take for someone to recognize him…which wasn’t very long.

“It was my surprise to them,” she said. “I’m leaving so I had to make it a good one.”

Though the festival has become her heart and soul, Sullivan said it’s time for her to pass the torch to a new PRCABC president, the election for which will be held in September. In a drive to get younger people to join the association, she dedicated this year’s festival to the youth. As one of the longest-running festivals in the area, she sees the need for the next generation to take an interest and keep it going.

“If you don’t have continuation, it gets lost,” she said.

Growing up, Sullivan watched her mother become involved in the PRCABC and plan the festival. Never did she envision herself being the one to run it someday, but the tradition of the event has become instilled in her. For her mother, the most important thing was cultural education, which included listening to Spanish music every Sunday and cooking traditional meals. Sullivan followed in her mother’s example while raising her own son, now 34.

“You have to keep it alive,” she said.

And she has faith the festival will stay alive for years to come, even as she steps down from her presidency. With the combined support of family, friends and volunteers, Sullivan is always amazed at how everyone comes together in the end to make it the best experience possible for locals and visiting guests.

“Bristol is a little town where everyone looks after everyone,” she said.

With any large-scale event, there are always last-minute worries and stresses, but everything fell into place. During Swing Con Seis’ performance later in the day, it started to drizzle, but even this couldn’t put a damper on the crowd’s mood. Thousands of people danced in the rain, and though Sullivan’s hair grew three times its size, she couldn’t have been happier.

“It was the perfect ending,” she said. ••

Samantha Bambino can be reached at sbambino@newspapermediagroup.com