Street named after Celia Cruz County, state officials participate in festive public dedication

The passing of salsa legend Celia Cruz may have faded from the national radar, but in Union City, the flamboyant singer’s memory is as alive as ever.

This was evident last week when hundreds of North Hudson residents gathered on the corner of 43rd Street and Bergenline Avenue in Union City to celebrate the re-naming of the section of 43rd Street between Bergenline Avenue and Kennedy Boulevard “Celia Cruz Way.”

Joining the hundreds of celebrants was a virtual cornucopia of Hudson County politicos, such as Congressman Robert Menendez (D-Hudson), Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise, State Senator Bernard Kenny (D-Hoboken), West New York Mayor and State General Assembly Speaker Albio Sires and Union City Mayor and Assembly candidate Brian Stack.

In fact, the entire 33rd legislative district ticket was at the event, including Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner and the Union City Board of Commissioners.

And while the Democratic political firepower was present, politics were kept to a minimum, though Republican Assembly candidate Jose Munoz was seen milling through the crowd, taking advantage of the large amount of Latinos present to hand out election fliers. The only overt mention of the upcoming elections was by Menendez, who after extolling the virtues of Cruz, dropped in a comment about the Democratic ticket up for election this Nov. 4. The mention of the ticket received a hearty round of applause.

The event was about Cruz and celebrated her lifetime of work.

Union City Deputy Director of Public Affairs Lucio Fernandez emceed the event and ably moved the proceedings along, introducing various political dignitaries and legends from the Latino music world, including Johnnie Pacheco, La India and Cruz’s widower Pedro Knight.

In his speech, Stack said, “We want Celia Cruz’s legacy in Union City to live on. This was a woman that was honored by Yale University and the Smithsonian Institution. She was an example for all of us to follow. Celia Cruz will always live in Union City.”

Next up was Menendez, who, as a former mayor of Union City, feels a strong connection to it. He said, “It may be cold outside, but Celia Cruz kept us all warm inside! Her music brought us all together.”

Menendez announced to a rousing round of applause and cheering that he will be sponsoring a bill that would have Cruz posthumously receive the Congressional Gold Medal, a United States award given by a vote of two-thirds of Congress in recognition of distinguished achievements or contributions.

Sires said at the podium, “This is truly a great day. It seems like not so long ago that she walked the streets of Union City and ate dinner right around the corner. Mayor Stack deserves a lot of credit for naming this street ‘Celia Cruz Way.’ ”

At the end of the ceremony, three presentations were made, each commemorating Cruz’s life, work and the effect she had on the Latino population of the North Hudson area. First, a star made of stone, one of five in the world bearing Cruz’s name, was unveiled. The star will be placed in the soon-to-be erected Celia Cruz Park in Union City. Then a giant mural depicting Cruz throughout the years of her career was unveiled to rabid applause. The colorful mural will be permanently installed in the same park. Thirdly, street signs were uncovered, revealing the words “Celia Cruz Way.”

The assembled crowd could do no more but dance to the recordings of Cruz’s music played over the sound system.

And they shouted, “Viva Cuba Libre!”


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