Labor Day the Puerto Rican Way

Thousands of residents from every borough came to celebrate Labor Day and salute the end of summer in Coney Island. There was a festive atmosphere as salsa music played all throughout the beach and boardwalk. People heard the lively beats as they strolled along, basking in the hot and sunny weather.

 Coney Island Beach

Coney Island Beach

Numerous musicians played classic salsa tunes on Steeplechase Pier. The passersby stopped to appreciate and groove to the music. Late in the afternoon, Carlita Vasquez, a charismatic woman from Queens, could be seen performing an impromptu dance.

“When I hear the music, I can’t help but dance,” she said after finishing her routine.

 To the left Carlita Vasquez, to the right Juan Albors

To the left Carlita Vasquez, to the right Juan Albors

The majority of musicians who were entertaining on the pier were native to Puerto Rico. Men of all ages beat on congas and snare drums as soundtracks of famous songs played in the background. Juan Albors said, “We’ve played on this pier for years, it’s our tradition."

 Juan's band

Juan's band

It wasn’t hard to see why Juan and his friends love to play their music on the boardwalk. Smiling was contagious as people joined the crowd of onlookers. It was refreshing to see people of all different backgrounds stop to watch the men perform. Nina Lory from New York said laughingly, “I think I love salsa music more than my Puerto Rican friends do!”

Salsa was introduced to New York in the 1960s. NuYorican ( New Yorkers of Puerto Rican descent) musicians spent years trying to integrate their culture's sounds and rhythms to those of New York. Finally, in the 1980s the salsa sound blew up and took over the nightclub scene. Since then, people of all different backgrounds have been able to listen to, enjoy, and dance to salsa music.

Now, New York salsa has a distinctly Puerto Rican sound that is smooth, polished, and classic. The music that was played on the pier was no exception. Without seeing the Puerto Rican flag next to the performers, there was no mistaking that the music was classic salsa.

Celebrating Labor Day at Coney Island was a wonderful experience that made me feel miles away from the concrete jungle. The sounds of salsa music made it feel like the last mini-vacation before the weather changes.