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Thousands celebrate at Salvadoran fest

Jose Chavez, 5, of Huntington waves the El

Jose Chavez, 5, of Huntington waves the El Salvadorian flag and enjoys the music from his father's shoulders at the Salvadoran American Day festival. (Aug. 5, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

"Cinco, cero, tres!" rapper Luis Coreas chanted to a lively audience decked out in blue and white at the Salvadoran-American Day Festival in Hempstead Sunday.

They responded by repeating the phrase — the international code to place calls to El Salvador, 503 — back to him.

"Be proud of where you come from," Coreas, who lives in Brentwood and who raps as Mr. Pelon, said. "Remember your country."

Tens of thousands swarmed Front Street for the sixth annual festival. Its message this year was a bit more political than years past.

A poster draped on the stage by event organizers expressed their discontent over New York City's "stop and frisk" policies and the federal Secure Communities program.

"We believe these programs violate our rights," said Elizabeth Oliveira, executive director of event sponsor Red de Comunidades Salvadoreñas, a nonprofit that promotes the socio-economic and cultural development of the Salvadoran community on Long Island. "Part of the reason we're doing this festival is because we're very proud of our heritage and proud of how we as Salvador-Americans are supporting our economy."

Carlos Encarnacion of Brooklyn said that although he agrees with the organizer's viewpoints, above all the festival achieved its main purpose: to build community, while having fun.

"When we come together, it builds relations and bonds between our people, which leads to the empowerment of our community," he said. "But also, people enjoy it, they have fun. Me, I love the food, the pupusas, the empanadas."

Eventgoers drove to the event from across Long Island, some wearing bright blue and white soccer shirts, others draped in silky flags.

Some, like Claudia Razo, 15, of Woodbury, huddled for shade behind Mr. Softee ice cream vans, as the trucks' music intermingled with the pulsating cumbia and lyrical marcha played by area musicians.

It was Razo's first time at the festival, and she attended with 10 family members. "I just think it brings the people together," Razo said. "We're all Salvadorans together."

The day began with a singing of the "Star Spangled Banner," followed by the El Salvador national anthem, one of the festival's most significant moments for Oliveira.

"Our new generation has the opportunity to participate and hear our national anthem of El Salvador," Oliveira said.

"We are so happy we have the freedom to celebrate both our nationalities so proudly."

She said the festival is a chance to teach the young generation "not only to feel proud to be Salvadorans, but also to be Americans."

Arnaldo Azucena, 24, of Roosevelt, grew up in the United States and said the Salvadoran community has "an identity crisis."

"We came to adapt to other cultures, but somehow we forgot our own cultures," he said. "Our roots and our culture are something really important about our community."

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