Puerto Rican Day Parade Dispute: Tempest in a Beer Can?

Critics contend Coors should not sponsor a parade whose theme is health.

ByABC News
May 30, 2013, 9:45 AM

May 30, 2013 -- Critics of Coors Light's participation in New York City's Puerto Rican Day Parade have vowed to continue their protest, despite a call by parade organizers that they stand down.

Complaints by Manhattan politicians and advocacy groups began earlier this week over claims that Coors disrespects the Puerto Rican flag by using it to sell beer.

MillerCoors, a corporate sponsor of the June 9 parade, will sell specially-designed cans of Coors Light in conjunction with the event. Part of the design consists of an apple-shaped emblem overlaid with a blue triangle, white star, and red and white stripes—elements of Puerto Rico's flag. The decoration looks similar, if not identical, to the logo of the parade itself, as displayed on the parade's website.

Two New York City council members and two New York state senators, describing themselves as "proud Puerto Rican elected officials," wrote to the parade's chairwoman, Madelyn Lugo on Wednesday, expressing their disappointment with and opposition to "the continued commercialization and misrepresentation of our culture" by Coors, by other parade sponsors, and by parade management itself.

"Permitting the placement of our flag, the most sacred and important symbol of our culture, on cans of beer is the height of disrespect," they wrote. "Why the [parade] committee feels compelled to continue to work with sponsors that seem to go out of their way to misrepresent our people is truly beyond us."

Though the parade, according to its website, is sponsored by a variety of companies, including Goya, Banco Popular, Jet Blue and Univision, the letter indicts MillerCoors in particular, calling its participation "nonsensical in a year where the committee has adopted 'Salud' [Health] as a theme."

The writers urged parade management to "stop Coors from including the flag."

How closely the decoration resembles the Puerto Rican flag is open to debate, since it mimics the flag without being an exact reproduction of it. A spokesperson for MillerCoors tells ABC News the decoration uses "elements of the Puerto Rican flag."

MillerCoors, in a statement, says it has been a supporter of the parade for the last seven years, has made contributions to a related scholarship fund, and has been a "strong partner" to various Hispanic organizations. "We've included a variation of the official National Puerto Rican Day Parade logo on our packaging…as a demonstration of our official alliance and support of the organization."

Parade management, in a separate statement of its own, said: "The mark in the promotion of Coors Light is NOT the Puerto Rican flag, NOR the logo of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc. It is an artwork created exclusively for this campaign. We call on community leaders to clear this misunderstanding, and stop misguidedly telling the public that the Puerto Rican flag has been posted on beer cans, something the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc., would NEVER authorize."

New York City council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, one of the writers of protest letter, says she is not mollified either by Coors' or by the Parade's responses, calling them completely inadequate.

"That it's not disrespect of the flag is ridiculous," she tells ABC News. "There's a flag draped on the bottom of the can." She calls it one example among many in recent years that demonstrates "poor judgment" on the part of the parade's board.

She is more angry with parade management, she says, than with Coors. "They [the board] need to exercise leadership—to be clear that our flag, our most sacred symbol, should not be commercialized and equated to a can of beer."