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Annual Salvadoran-American festival in Hempstead celebrates culture, heritage of both countries

Sisters Erica Coreas, 16, left, and Paola Fuentes,

Sisters Erica Coreas, 16, left, and Paola Fuentes, 15, of Brooklyn, at the Salvadoran-American Day Festival on Sunday in Hempstead. Photo Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Pedro Martinez sang and raised his left arm high in the air, holding a flag with the combined patterns from the United States and El Salvador as the anthems of both countries played.

Martinez was among the thousands who gathered Sunday at a parking lot on Washington Street in the Village of Hempstead for the 13th annual Salvadoran-American Day Festival.

"I’m proud of being Salvadoran. I’m also proud to be living in America. I’m from here and there,” said Martinez, who rested the flag on his shoulder in front of a large crowd, among which many wore blue and white, the national colors of his home country. Many moved to the beats of cumbia that could be heard blocks away.  

The 46-year-old Hempstead resident said  many of the songs played at the festival are of the same music he listened to when he was a teenager growing up in El Salvador before emigrating in 1992.

“It makes me go back to those years. That’s why I like to come here,” said Martinez, who has attended the festival for the past 10 years.

The music, food, and national colors everywhere reminded many at the festival of their home country.

Ovidio Guillen, 49, of Westbury, said he emigrated in 1988 to flee a civil war. At the festival, he said, he felt like he was home again.

“A little space in the USA makes me feel like [I’m in] my country,” Guillen said, standing near food vendors selling pupusas and roasted meats.

Rebeca Cruz, 31, of East Rockaway, has brought her daughter, Nicole Cruz, 10, to the festival since  Nicole was 2.

“I don’t want to forget where I come from. It’s important to me,” said Rebeca Cruz, who speaks to her two young children at home in Spanish and takes them to visit El Salvador as much as she can. 

The yearly celebration is organized by the Salvadoran nonprofits Empresarios Por El Cambio, New York Soccer Latin Academy, Red de Comunidades Salvadoreñas and Comité Cívico Salvadoreño de Nueva York — all based in Hempstead village.

Angel Sosa, 53, a spokesman for the event, said the festival began after Congress declared Aug. 6 a Salvadoran-American day in 2006. Every year, the event is held in Hempstead, at Hempstead village, where Sosa grew up. He calls the village the Ellis Island of the Salvadoran-American community.

Sosa said a lot of the news coverage involving his community often  has to with gangs. or other “bad things,” and the festival is “to shed light upon the positive accomplishments the Salvadoran-American community has achieved in the past 40 years.”

The event, which he said drew an estimated 20,000 people this year, is about cultural heritage, national pride and the community's place in America.

“The white and blue is also part of the white, red and blue,” Sosa said, referring to the colors of the El Salvadoran and U.S. flags. “We are part of America.”

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