Group vows stronger Puerto Rican parade

Holding a Puerto Rican flag, supporters of the Holding a Puerto Rican flag, supporters of the Brentwood Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade smile as new plans for the parade are announced at Ross Park in Brentwood. (May 14, 2012) Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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Every year when the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade comes to Brentwood, Wilfredo González dresses in the blue, red and white of the Puerto Rican flag and prepares for a day of salsa dancing, barbecuing and fun with loved ones.

Relatives and friends come from as far as Puerto Rico and Florida to join him.

González's eyes welled up with tears Monday morning as community leaders announced they had united to save the parade, following its abrupt cancellation last week.

"I was born in Huntington, but Puerto Rico is in my heart and I love that I don't have to go to there to feel Puerto Rican," said González, 32, whose parents are from the island.

The parade -- founded by Puerto Ricans who settled in the area in the 1960s -- has become a treasured community tradition for many like him after running for 45 years. But nonprofit Adelante of Suffolk County had called off this year's event as it struggles to fund its operations.

More than 30 community leaders and residents gathered at Brentwood's Ross Park Monday to unequivocally say that there will be a 46th annual parade -- and that they'll work to rally the community and raise $50,000 in private funds to make the event better.

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"As the Puerto Rican community always does in a time of crisis, we pull together," said Assemb. Phil Ramos (D-Central Islip). "We want the parade to be saved and we are coming together for that purpose."

The parade, which typically takes place the first Sunday in June, is now scheduled for July 22, starting at noon at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Spur Drive North in North Bay Shore and moving north along the avenue for close to 2 miles to Pine Aire Drive.

It will be organized by Teatro Yerbabruja, a Hispanic nonprofit that focuses on cultural events. Group director Margarita Espada said it's "a privilege" to work on saving this tradition.

Community advocate Luis Valenzuela, of the Long Island Immigrant Alliance, said the parade recognizes "the pioneering spirit of the Puerto Rican community" while embracing others from Latin America.

Aura and José Velázquez, who own Aury Fashion along the parade route, confirmed that appeal. She's Salvadoran and he is Guatemalan, but both have enjoyed the parade since they moved to Brentwood 22 years ago.

"It's a happy time in Brentwood," she said. It's also good for business, he added: "People come and buy all the things and flags from Puerto Rico."

Sandy Jaramillo, a hairdresser of Italian heritage at La Excelencia Barbershop nearby, said she has fewer customers on that day because of traffic, but it doesn't bother her.

"What can you do? Everyone has to have their parade," said Jaramillo, 48, of Bay Shore. "This is America and it's a melting pot, and you have to make everybody happy."

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