The annual Brentwood Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade that filled Fifth Avenue with the sounds of the tropics and the flavors of Latin America for more than four decades will not take place this summer.
The cancellation -- the first in the parade's 45-year history -- results from funding cuts at the nonprofit Adelante of Suffolk County, a Latino community service organization that sponsors the parade, officials said.
Wednesday's announcement shocked community leaders and officials who don't want to lose what they say is the largest ethnic parade on Long Island.
"I'm really, really sad and disappointed," said Renee Ortiz, 39, a Puerto Rican community advocate from neighboring Central Islip. "This has been a celebration of our culture and our history in the area since before I was born."
The parade, held on the first Sunday in June, attracted an es- timated 50,000 people last year.
For many, the event represented the start of summer -- celebrated by salsa dancing in the streets, waving flags, and watching floats and marchers showcasing Puerto Rican culture. The celebration expanded in the 1980s to embrace other Hispanics as the population of immigrants from El Salvador, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic and other countries expanded on Long Island.
Miriam M.E. Garcia, Adelante's director and the event's chief organizer for 18 years, said the agency had to choose between funding programs for Hispanic seniors and youth or the parade. State and county funding cuts, combined with reduced corporate sponsorships, have decreased the group's budget to $1.5 million this year from $2 million in 2009, she said.
"Most of our programs are funded by government and we have been receiving tremendous cuts," Garcia said. "The parade and the scholarship it supports are very important, but we do other work 365 days out of the year."
The nonprofit also is in the middle of a costly building renovation to house its meals program in Brentwood, she said.
The group needs as much as $50,000 a year to put on the parade, Garcia said. The amount includes about $10,000 in scholarships awarded to Latino students. Adelante officials said they still plan to raise money for scholarships this year.
"It was a very tough decision" to cancel the event, said Hector Machado, president of Adelante's board. "I sympathize with people who want it, being a Puerto Rican-American myself. I love the parade, too."
Garcia said she hopes her organization will bring the parade back next year. But community leaders and elected officials said more could have been done to prevent this year's cancellation.
The lack of a parade "is a significant and a serious loss to the community," said Suffolk Legis. Ricardo Montano (D-Brentwood), adding that he would have been willing to assist in organizing community meetings to discuss saving it.
Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood) said he was in talks with community leaders to try to bring back the parade.
Marcos Maldonado, a Brentwood resident, criticized organizers for not asking for help from the community before deciding to cancel the parade.
He had been planning to attend, as he has for decades, and take a group of teenagers to be part of the cultural bonding experience he enjoyed as a child, Maldonado, 31, said.
"They just decided to cancel it out of nowhere," he said. "We are proud of that event and it was something that was on the calendar of a lot of people."