HARLEM — The makers of Coors beer and organizers of the Puerto Rican Day Parade say critics of what appears to be the Puerto Rican flag on a Coors Light can are mistaken.
The red, white, and blue stripes at the bottom of the can are just a logo designed by Coors, one of the parade's major sponsors, they say.
"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 by Coors Light for this campaign, that integrates elements for the Parade's symbol such as an apple, a star, and red, white, blue and black colors," said a statement from Javier Gomez, a spokesman for the National Puerto Rican Parade, Inc.
"We call on the community leaders to clear this misunderstanding, and stop misguidedly telling the public that the Puerto Rican flag has been posted on beer cans, something that the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc. would never authorize," Gomez said.
The response drew incredulous laughs from critics who called the depiction "disrespectful" and said the response from parade organizers and MillerCoors, the maker of Coors Light, bordered on "ludicrous."
"That is 1,000-percent baloney. That design and the image on the beer can is without equivocation the Puerto Rican flag," said Vincent Torres an organizer for the East Harlem group Boricuas For A Positive Image. "Anyone who looks at it will think it's the Puerto Rican flag."
Angry responses to the beer can continued to build on social media.
Five New York City politicians — Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Rosie Mendez, Fernando Cabrera and state Sens. Jose Serrano and Gustavo Rivera — penned a letter to the chair of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc., asking that guidelines be put in place to govern marketing sponsorships.
"Oh please!," said Mark-Viverito when told of the response from the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc. and MillerCoors. "It's a lame excuse and they are trying to backpedal on something that is becoming a difficult issue. They are marketing our culture."
The National Institute for Latino Policy called the display "egregious," especially since this year's parade theme is "Salud— Celebrating Your Health." Puerto Ricans deal with high rates of alcoholism compared to other Latino ethnic groups, said the organization, citing statistics from the National Institutes of Health.
The image in question appears wrapped around the bottom of 20-ounce Coors Light cans. There are a series of wavy stripes colored blue, red, and white. An apple is colored in the red and blue colors of the Puerto Rican flag with a single star. A border around the apple image says National Puerto Rican Parade, Inc.
The Puerto Rican flag also has a single star embedded in the center of a blue triangle turned on its side. Five red and white stripes alternate along the rest of the flag.
The exact apple symbol that is on the beer can also appears on the front page of the website of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, Inc. over a map of the United States with the words "self esteem" beneath.
"How can this be misconstrued for anything but the Puerto Rican flag?" Torres asked.
MillerCoors defended itself in a statement.
"MillerCoors has a strong track-record of responsible advertising and marketing. Coors Light has supported the National Puerto Rican Day Parade for the last seven years in celebration and honor of Puerto Rican heritage," said Karina Diehl, a MillerCoors spokeswoman.
"We’ve included a variation of the official National Puerto Rican Day Parade logo on our packaging, which incorporates an apple to symbolize New York, a star and red and blue colors as a demonstration of our official alliance and support of the organization," Diehl said.
Critics want the cans removed because they say the usage of flag symbolism on a beer can is disrespectful of Puerto Rican culture. A protest against the can is planned for later this week at a beer distributor in the Bronx.
MillerCoors also has a history of offending Puerto Ricans, they say.
Coors ads featuring the phrase "Emborícuate," or "Become Puerto Rican" in Spanish beneath three beers were removed in 2011 after an outcry from Latino advocacy groups. The word was taken by many to be a play on "Emborráchate," or to get drunk.
MillerCoors has no plans to change the cans. This year's Puerto Rican Day Parade will be held on June 9 on Fifth Avenue from 44th Street to 79th Street.
"We will continue to support the 2013 Puerto Rican Day Parade, which includes the commemorative can," Diehl said.
Mark-Viverito called the response from MillerCoors and the National Puerto Rican Parade, Inc. "inadequate."
"Trying to blame the community and those of us who have expressed concern publicly is the height of arrogance and irresponsibility," she said.