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Hempstead parade marks Central America's independence

Delia Ortega, her daughter Natalie, 7, and husband

Delia Ortega, her daughter Natalie, 7, and husband Haroldo watch floats head down North Franklin Street during the Central American Parade in Hempstead. (Sept. 15, 2013) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Thousands of people flocked to Hempstead on Sunday, marking Central America's independence from Spain with dancing, traditional music and food.

The festivities kicked off with a parade that began at Union Place, went along North Franklin Street and ended at a municipal parking lot off Front Street.

Organizers of the annual Central American Parade and Festival estimated this year's turnout would exceed the more than 10,000 at last year's event.

Sept. 15 is known as Central American Independence Day because it marks 192 years since Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica signed their declarations of independence from Spain.

Floats representing each of those countries drew cheers from the crowds wearing mostly blue and white as they lined up along North Franklin Street.

Ella Wilson of Westbury, who stumbled on the parade as she left Sunday services at First Baptist Church on the parade route, smiled at the celebration.

"It's nice," she said, watching parade participants dance to Cumbia music, popular throughout Latin America. "I like the dancing."

This year's parade included floats representing Colombia and Cuba, which are not part of Central America.

Amanda Molina, a Honduran national whose jewelry store is on the route, said the parade positively impacts her business.

"Today is great. The more activity there is in Hempstead, the better for business," Molina, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, said.

Boutique owner and El Salvador native Juana Nora Ignacio agreed.

"When one is no longer there, these celebrations serve as a reminder to us to commemorate the independence."

The festival started very small 24 years ago, said Martha Montero, executive director of the annual Central American Parade and Festival. At first, it celebrated individual community contributors, then grew along with the increasingly diverse population.

"This is one of the biggest parades we have here in Hempstead," said Mayor Wayne Hall at the festival. "Hempstead is so diverse and this just represents our whole community."

Maritza Hernandez, 41, who said she immigrated from El Salvador 22 years ago, waited patiently in line for pupusas, or handmade tortillas.

"I come every year and it just reminds me" of El Salvador, she said. "I really enjoy it."

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