The recent stories of violence and poverty from Central America have frustrated Deysi Perez, who left El Salvador when she was 13.
Perez, 39, said she hopes scenes of folk dancing and other revelry at the Central American Parade in Hempstead Sunday go a long way to dispel people's gritty perceptions of the region.
"There's a lot of violence; we don't see anything positive," said Perez, of Greenville, South Carolina.
In one of Long Island's largest displays of Central American pride, about 10,000 people Sunday marked the independence of five Central American nations from Spain on Sept. 15, 1821: Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
Beauty pageant contestants stood atop floats, and dancers led the procession in colorful costumes. Central American music blared over Old Franklin Street, while paradegoers waved flags, donned jerseys of national soccer teams and danced to traditional forms, including punta and cumbia.
In interviews, some immigrants recalled their own journeys here.
"It's always tough for people and their families," said Vladimir Reyes, 30, a photographer who was born in El Salvador and came to the United States in 1999, following his mother and father.
"When I see all of this, it just reminds us we are all one" community, said Reyes, of Queens, snapping photos of the parade on Old Franklin Street.
Perez said the event is a way for members of the larger Hispanic population "just to come together as a family."
Perez, who said her father was killed in El Salvador when she was 3, said, "We have a lot of violence in our countries," but in the United States, "over here, it's like a second chance that we have; just to know we have more freedom than in our country -- it's a blessing to us."
Long Island is home to roughly 111,000 Central Americans, according to recent census data. Most are from El Salvador, with more than 52,000 living in Suffolk and nearly 24,000 in Nassau.
Martha Montero, 54, executive director of the Central American Parade, a nonprofit based in Uniondale, said she hopes the parade showcases the "flavor" of the culture to outsiders.
And Hempstead "is a big home" for Central Americans, Perez notes. In this suburb, there is a thriving business community, including owners of restaurants and landscape companies, as well as artists, including writers and painters.
The next step is the ballot box, Perez said.
"The politicians should take note," she said, nearing the end of the parade, coming to a stage where some politicians would gather to address the crowds. "We're getting a majority now."