Celebrating their community's growing diversity, hundreds gathered Saturday in Huntington Station for a unifying parade and fair.
Huntington Awareness Day, a collaboration between town officials and community activists, started last year.
"The purpose of the event is to bring all of the wonderful groups that are [working] throughout Huntington together in one place," said Joan Cergol, special assistant to Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone.
Yesterday's festivities featured a parade that included cultural displays, vintage cars and a performance by the Huntington High School marching band.Thanks in part to a surge of immigrants, Huntington Station's population is now nearly 37 percent Hispanic, the latest census figures show. African-Americans make up 11 percent.
"It's good for the community to pull together and do activities," said Gianna Seebach, 41, of Huntington. "You would hope that it would end tensions between cultures."
Daryl Dodson, president of the Town of Huntington NAACP, walked the parade route with several of his group's members. "It's all about raising awareness about the things we have in common," he said. "It's a good opportunity for us to all meet each other and work together."
The inaugural Huntington Awareness Day had been sparked by controversy: the closure of an intermediate school to protect students from a spate of violent crime.
Some of those who attended yesterday's event called it an opportunity to debunk stereotypes.
"I'm proud to be Salvadoran," said Lourdes Oliva, 16, who wore the blue and white colors of her homeland.
Just because a few Salvadorans have been linked in news reports to gangs such as MS-13, the entire community shouldn't be viewed with fear, she said.
"There's a lot more to being Salvadoran than being in MS-13," Oliva said.
The parade began around 10 a.m. at New York Avenue and West Hills Road, and ended with a fair in the municipal parking lot on New York Avenue, between Railroad and Church streets. The fair featured performances by local artists, as well as chalk art and crafts.
Dee Thompson, an event organizer and 60-year resident of Huntington, is already looking forward to next year.
"We have to bring back the unity in the community," she said. "What the people have to be able to see is that we are one."