Imagine a flag almost the size of a tennis court, waving in the hands of at least 60 people, who march past Logan Square, along Benjamin Franklin Parkway, making their way to a stage at the Oval. It's big. And the cause behind it, supporters say, is even bigger: a symbolic demonstration of the power and strength of Puerto Ricans in Philadelphia and across the country.

The flag is to be one of Sunday's main attractions in the 56th annual Puerto Rican Day Parade. "The Rebirth of Puerto Rico" is the parade's theme this year, as the community recovers from the natural and human disasters that have challenged it before and since Hurricane María hit the island last Sept. 20.

Keeper of the flag for this event is Philly native Kimberly Lamberty, cofounder of Latinos en Marcha, an advocacy group created after the hurricane devastated the island. She is still looking for volunteers to carry that flag that she sees as a message for President Trump.

"Red for the blood of our people, white for our unity," she said. "We're not going to allow this man to minimize our role in this country, colonized citizens for 100 years now, and not look at the contributions we have done. Here we push to shove."

Volunteers raise the 60-by-30-foot Puerto Rican flag at the Art Museum’s steps during the Women’s March in Philadelphia on Jan. 20, 2018.
Volunteers raise the 60-by-30-foot Puerto Rican flag at the Art Museum’s steps during the Women’s March in Philadelphia on Jan. 20, 2018.

One year after the storm, Puerto Ricans of Philadelphia look forward to more hard work to help recovery. The community has reorganized and created a nonprofit called the Greater Philadelphia María Long-Term Recovery Committee, aiming to bridge state and local services and support efforts on the island.

Gov. Wolf traveled to Puerto Rico in August to survey damage on the island and to try to help his constituents who come from there. Traveling with him was City Councilwoman María Quiñones-Sánchez, who is of Puerto Rican descent and represents a largely Latino-populated district. They are trying to stimulate economic ties and cut the red tape that makes it difficult for professionals licensed on the island to put their skills to work on the mainland.

"We are looking at the legal options and the paperwork needed, so that professionals in Puerto Rico could transition to work in Pennsylvania, without draining the island of its people," she said, referring to the teachers, lawyers, physicians, nurses and pharmaceutical industry scientists who have been migrating before and after the hurricane, while accommodating those who travel from Pennsylvania to provide relief in Puerto Rico.

The Salvation Army has been working with local helpers and volunteers traveling to the island, assisting the agencies that used to be a part of Unidos Pa' PR (United for Puerto Rico), the recovery coalition that worked on relief efforts right after the hurricane. The Rev. Bonnie Camarda of the charitable organization's Philly chapter mentioned they continue to work at 11 construction and health care projects.

"We visited farms, clinics, schools and villages during our August trip, and saw how resilient people are, what has improved and what hasn't been addressed yet," she said.

More than 135,000 people evacuated the island in the first six months after the hurricane, according to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at City University of New York. George Washington University reported  that 2,975 people lost their lives during and after the disaster.

Quiñones-Sánchez's office owns the 60-by-30-foot flag to be showcased at the parade on Sunday. She said the flag also has a message for her fellow Puerto Ricans as they keep strong ties with the Caribbean and their identity. "We don't do anything without a flag, because it speaks to who we are. It holds up our pride, and it's the only thing we can rally around."

The parade starts Sunday, Sept. 30, at noon from 18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It's one of several events that take place during Hispanic Heritage Month, between Sept. 15 and Oct. 15.