Celebration and anger at West New York Cuban Independence Day


“Fifty-seven years later here we are, the doors are open now to Cuba but the reality is the oppression is still there, the Castro regime is still there, nothing has happened; it’s the same of the same and it just hurts,” says West New York Mayor, Dr. Felix Roque.

“It’s important to be here to talk about the freedom of Cuba because back in Cuba I had a sister who was imprisoned for 20 years entering the revolution,” says West New York resident Milagros Rodriguez.

“Supposed to be Independence Day — which is something that we would like to keep forever, right now Cuba is not free,” says Agustin Garcia, past president of the Hispanic Day Parade.

Performing there means a lot to Melody Marti because it’s dedicated to her grandfather, Manito Perez.

“He was a great community man and even though we don’t have him now, he’s here in spirit,” says Marti, a dance education major at Montclair State University and student at Oneida’s Dance Studio in Guttenberg.

Her cousin calls it a true honor to perform this for him.

“Not only being Cuban but my family is really involved in the culture, they’ve kept it with us,” says High Tech High School freshman and Oneida’s Dance Studio student, Ariana Perez.

Sgt. Candido Elejalde of the US Army spoke of his experiences after spending 10 years in a Cuban prison for being on the wrong side of a political conflict. He wanted to give back to the country who gave him freedom…

And so did many others.

“‘Cause meet all Cuban community, the political people, dance people — we think about the Cuban free, freedom for Cuba,” says Barbara Cambon of West New York.

What better way to celebrate than with the sounds of an award-winning saxophonist, composer and bandleader.

“It’s special when we have an artist like Paquito D’Rivera and we’re honoring him on a day like today, it makes it even more special,” says Assemblywoman Angelica Jimenez (D).

He immigrated to the US in 1966 and even though he’s now a Bergen County mayor, 
Carlos Rendo grew up in Union City and lived much of his life in West New York

“So it’s always good to come back to West New York and the heart of the Cuban community to celebrate Cuban Independence Day,” says Rendo, mayor of Woodcliff Lake.

“We have great people here and I feel like I’m in Cuba right now,” adds Mayor Roque.

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Jillian has a passion for news, giving voice to the voiceless and telling stories that make an impact. A New Jersey native, she spent the past two years as a multimedia journalist/one-man-band at WTAP-TV, the NBC affiliate in Parkersburg, West Virginia, where she covered everything from meth busts to fracking to the homeless to a young man struck by lightening. She was her news director’s “go to health reporter” and also covered many education and political stories. She frequently interviewed the mayors of Parkersburg, Vienna and Williamstown, WV and Belpre and Marietta, Ohio. She interviewed OH Gubernatorial Candidate Ed Fitzgerald and OH Congressional Candidate Jennifer Garrison, as well as WV Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and WV Senator Joe Manchin. Jillian was a regular fixture at the local police, sheriff’s departments, prosecutors’ offices and courthouses. Many looked forward to her ‘Mom of the Month’ series. Her story about two women who lost their children to heroin was widely recognized, along with her much loved piece on the Battle Against Cystic Fibrosis band camp. In her free time, Jillian enjoys yoga; working out, live music, spending time with friends on both coasts and the Mid-Ohio Valley. Follow on Twitter @JillianRis


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