Thousands of proud Portuguese marchers -- whose immigrant ancestors came to nearby shores, settling here centuries ago -- took ownership of their heritage Sunday by celebrating Long Island's first Portugal Day Parade.
Some descendants wore colorful outfits and other low-key participants sat around singing as the spirited crowd prepared for the monumental walk in Mineola.
"The Portuguese community is very rich. It's a way to show off our culture and show what we're all about," said marcher Carlos Dias, 26, of East Meadow. "It brings me back to my roots."
He added that his people have done a lot for Long Island such as opening businesses and organizing charity groups.
The Long Island Portuguese American Leadership Conference sponsored the event on the same day as the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan.
The Long Island parade stretched behind Chaminade High School near Jericho Turnpike, making its way toward the Hampton Street School, 10 Hampton St.
Gabriel Marques, president of the leadership conference, expected 2,000 marchers from at least 50 groups.
At least another 3,000 from as far away as Canada and Virginia lined the streets and watched, parade officials said.
"It's time," Marques said of the inaugural event. "We've always had individual events, but we want to recognize our roots and heritage."
Located in southwest Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, Portugal has a population of 10 million.
The country is known partly for exporting clothing, shoes, machinery and chemicals. Its president is Anibal Cavaco Silva.
"I'm very proud of my heritage; I mean you can't go anything better. You have to be proud of where you came from. You have to represent your country and where you're from," said Steve Ferreria, 26, who participated in the march.
But having celebrated Portuguese parades in New Jersey and knowing of others in Massachusetts, he believes the local gathering was long overdue.
"It took too long to come to fruition. It took way too long for it to come down here," said Ferreria, who grew up in Mineola.
Grand marshals in the parade were students from Long Island's four Portuguese language and cultural schools, organizers said.
"We want to recognize the people who will keep our tradition going," Marques said.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano hosted a ceremony in Mineola last year for Nuno Brito, Portugal's ambassador to the United States.
But this year's celebration was supposed to top that. "There's never been a Portuguese event this big on Long Island," Marques said, adding immigrants settled here in the late 1800s.
Alexandra Ferreiri, 25, of Miller Place, walked in the parade as part of American Foundation For Charities of Portugal, which raises money for homeless shelters and orphanages.
Ferreiri said the parade serves as a way to teach about their history.
"It's something good to do. The children of the community will grow up appreciating their heritage," Ferreiri said.
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