Vineland's Annual Puerto Rican Day Festival Turns 50

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Puerto Rican Festival Parade July 2017 Vineland South Jersey NJ

Crowds at gather at last year's Puerto Rican Day Festival, held in Vineland. PHOTO PROVIDED.

VINELAND, N.J. - Vineland’s annual Puerto Rican Day Festival returns Saturday, July 22nd, celebrating 50 years of Puerto Rican culture in the South Jersey community.

Beginning on July 22nd with a banquet at the Ramada Inn, this nine-day festival concludes on Sunday, July 30th, with a variety of parades, parties, and celebrations across Cumberland County.

However, for much of the Cumberland County community, this festival is more than just parades and festivities — it’s a source of cultural pride.

“It's not just Puerto Ricans,” says Jennifer Negron, an organizer for this year’s festival. “It's full of Latinos who celebrate their culture very proudly."

Negron also notes the sense of unity this festival gives Cumberland County area residents.

“You can see everybody there all excited," says Jennifer Negron, "we're all united and together — it's very enjoyable to watch.”

For many in the Vineland area, Puerto Rican culture and heritage began before the festival was even conceived in the 1940s. 

According to the registration records, this is when a peasant Puerto Rican family migrated to New York City. They later moved to Vineland, N.J. in search of a better future and economic status.

You can see everybody there all excited. We're all united and together — it's very enjoyable to watch.

Despite the difficulties and adversities they faced, their determination and courage enabled them to succeed. This same spirit of determination served as an inspiration to other Puerto Rican immigrants who came to the United States to work in agriculture.

However, before the celebration of the Puerto Rican Festival, two memorable meetings took place conducted by Committee of Puerto Rican Action. 

According to the Puerto Rican Day Festival yearbook, Geronimo García carried out the first meeting on June 7, 1962 with the Governor, Hon. Richard J. Hughes. The second meeting was held with Governor Robert B. Meyner. In both meetings the committee expressed the need of a day of acknowledgment once every year to celebrate the achievement of Puerto Ricans.

While the sources may vary, it would seem that the date of Vineland’s first Puerto Rican Festival has been lost in the dense fog of history.

Some document the date as July 25, 1968, while others cite 1967 as the initial year.

It is possible, however, that the origins date back even further, to the Puerto Rican Social Action Club that organized itself in Vineland sometime in 1956.

Among its other activities, the group proposed a proclamation setting aside a date each July as Puerto Rican Day.

The group took its proclamation all the way to Trenton, meeting with Gov. Meyner in the New Jersey Statehouse.

On a local level, it was signed by outgoing Vineland mayor Frank Testa prior to his leaving office in 1960.

As reported in the Vineland Times Journal on July 25, 1960, the ex-mayor spoke at an observance in the club building, referring to Puerto Rico as "the greatest island in the Caribbean."

The event at the North Third Street club, reportedly, was in commemoration of the Jones Act, which, on July 2, 1917, gave United States citizenship to Puerto Ricans, also coinciding with the eighth anniversary of the day Puerto Rico became a self-governing commonwealth on July 25, 1952.

Then on July 23, 1967, Puerto Rico voted to retain commonwealth status. Little, if anything, was reported in the Vineland Times Journal on a local event in 1967.

However, one year later, the paper published a large front-page photo of a Puerto Rican flag being raised at City Hall on July 25, 1968.

This celebration also included an interfaith service at Sacred Heart Church, the first observance of its kind in Vineland.

In 1967, a group of Puerto Ricans, who were extremely proud of their heritage, began what is now known as the Puerto Rican Festival of Vineland, NJ. On behalf of the Committee of Puerto Rican Action, Mr. Juan Scharon raised the Puerto Rican flag at City Hall in Vineland on July 25, 1969 to commemorate the Island of Puerto Rico, which is considered a commonwealth state. 

Half a century later, the celebrations haven’t slowed down.

This year’s festival will include various flag-raising ceremonies throughout Cumberland County; dedicated days for seniors, women, youth; Puerto Rican Folklore, as well as plenty of food and entertainment throughout. 

The Puerto Rican Day parade closes the nine days of festivities starting at 1 p.m. on the 30th on Landis Avenue and continuing with various activities until the night’s end. 

This year’s festival will be dedicated to Vineland's sister-city of Utuado, Puerto Rico, with all of its festivities kicking off on July 23rd. 

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