Thousands celebrate, a few protest, during Brentwood's Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day parade

Members of Long Island's Latino community came together on June 1, 2014 at Brentwood's Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day parade to celebrate the richness of their culture. (Credit: Newsday / Chris Ware)

Thousands of revelers celebrated a host of Caribbean and South American heritages Sunday in Brentwood's 48th Puerto Rican / Hispanic Day Parade, as a handful marched in protest over an illegal-dumping scandal that has hit the Town of Islip in recent weeks.

Paradegoers lined the nearly two-mile route along Fifth Avenue that began at Bailey Avenue in North Bay Shore and ended at Fourth Avenue in Brentwood as the first of about 60 groups began making their way north at midday beneath crystal-clear blue skies. Many went from spectators to participants by dancing in the street, lured by a mix of reggaeton, Cumbia, salsa and Bachata music pulsing from the floats and classic cars rolling by.

Ramon Colon, 66, a dental technician, moved to Brooklyn from Ponce, Puerto Rico, when he was 10 and has called Brentwood home for 35 years.

"It's my heritage; I'm enjoying the beautiful day -- the weather reminds me of Puerto Rico but I'm not sweating yet," he said with a laugh. "It's all about the music, the people, the friends you see, the people you meet."

Romeo Kings, 22, of Brentwood, had a Colombian red tail boa wrapped around his neck as he rattled off the list of countries of his lineage.

"I'm not only Puerto Rican, but I'm Dominican, Cuban, Japanese, native Hawaiian and Jamaican," Kings said. "I'm here to pay my respects to all the cultures. I'm proud to be a mixed breed."

Makeshift concession stands were set up along the sidewalks, where entrepreneurs grilled chicken and beef on sticks as well as fresh corn. Piragua, a Puerto Rican shaved ice dessert, also was being peddled by vendors.

Fire departments from across Long Island, including Brentwood, Glen Cove and Oyster Bay, were in full regalia, with sirens blasting from their rigs and Puerto Rican flags flying on top. A woman dressed in a bright yellow outfit walked on stilts while motorcycle crews and classic cars rolled through.

The parade took on a political tone toward the beginning of the procession, when Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood) marched with about a half-dozen people carrying signs in protest of the Town of Islip, which read, "We are not second class citizens" and "The Town of Islip does not care about its communities of color!"

The signs were aimed at the town's handling of illegal dumping of an estimated 50,000 tons of construction debris laced with asbestos, pesticides, heavy metals and petroleum products in Roberto Clemente Park, which sits about three miles from the parade route.

The Suffolk County district attorney is conducting a criminal investigation into the dumping.

"The police already threatened to arrest us because of our signs," Ramos yelled to the crowd. "They just want to shut us down."

Inez Birbiglia, spokeswoman for the Town of Islip, responded in a statement: "The spirit of this parade is about appreciation of culture and unity among all. It's a shame that [Assemb.] . . . Ramos once again finds a way to divide rather than unite our community."

A police spokeswoman said officers acted as an "intermediary" between Ramos and the parade committee, which "does not permit negative signage." The committee ultimately allowed Ramos to continue in the parade with the signs, the spokeswoman said.

An organizer for the event could not be reached for comment.

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