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Embracing heritage, and the future, at Puerto Rican Day parade

Celebración. Puerto Rican Day parade down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway celebrated Puerto Rican and Latino heritage.

Latino beauties rolled up and down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Sunday as part of the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. Rikard Larma/METRO The annual Puerto Rican Day parade rolls down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. Credit: Rikard Larma/Metro

In the middle of the sequined skirts, one-star flags and waves of beautiful women that formed a meandering line down the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, a family pumped signs and chanted "Cheka."

The family of Franchesca "Cheka" Alvarado, the 22-year-old Hunting Park native who never returned home from a trip to Atlantic City with an older male companion in March 2012, brought a message to the annual Puerto Rican Day parade that celebrates Puerto Rican and Latino heritage: Stop the violence.

"This city needs to hear it," said Mia Casteing, Cheka's older sister.

In the aftermath of last year's parade, veteran Lt. Jonathan Josey punched a woman in the face during a scuffle at a post-parade party. The incident, caught on video, outraged the Latino community. After a brief suspension, the officer was eventually reinstated in August.

Also in August, a shoe with the skeletal remains of Alvarado's foot washed ashore at a New Jersey beach. Now that the family has come to terms with the fact that their loved one is likely dead, their cause has shifted from finding Alvarado to avenging her — and to embrace an anti-violence crusade.

Casteing, who wore a shirt with her sister's face spray-painted on the front encircled by the words "Puerto Rican Princess," noted that among the festivities, the Latino community and the city as a whole needs to also reflect on the future — how to make better choices, how to bridge the gap between neighbors.

She peered down the parkway, and gazed at the bouncy dancers and bright-colored cars.

"We need to move forward," she said. "But let's celebrate first."

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