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Brentwood Puerto Rican day parade delights thousands

Arianna Nazario, 9, of Massapequa, blows a horn

Arianna Nazario, 9, of Massapequa, blows a horn as she watches the annual Brentwood Puerto Rican parade, in Brentwood. (June 23, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

As thousands of families gathered along Fifth Avenue in Brentwood on Sunday for the 47th Brentwood Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade, some longed for the old days while looking to discover the new.

The parade used to be predominantly a Puerto Rican-flavored event with flags and food of the U.S. island territory. But times and immigration patterns have changed the look and feel of the annual procession through Brentwood.

"Back in the day they had pride," said Tito Santiago, 50, who has been attending the parade for more than 30 years and recalled with fondness the event's past years when it was mostly a Puerto Rican-flavored parade.

Still, his family, which included his 73-year-old mother and 4-year-old nephew, waited in the sun to see the parade. Along with the usual Puerto Rican signs and flags there was a healthy display from other Latin American countries.

Last year, the parade almost didn't happen. The original organizers announced they didn't have enough funds and canceled. Assemb. Philip Ramos joined with a local nonprofit, Teatro Yerbabruja, to save the event. Teatro Yerbabruja was back this year to organize the parade.

"We got to continue this on for this little kid and his kids," said Santiago, pointing at his young nephew.

While the Puerto Rican flag reigned at the parade, vendors and marchers could be seen with Honduran, Dominican and flags of other Latin American countries.

There were many vendors selling food along Fifth Avenue on Sunday, but the one in front of the Primera Iglesia Cristiana Church focused on traditional Puerto Rican fare: bacalaitos -- codfish fritters; pinchos -- shish kebabs; and limber -- coconut shaved ices.

Dayna Ortiz, a church member selling treats, said the inclusiveness of the parade "is a beautiful thing."

Ortiz has seen the Puerto Rican congregation at the church dwindle, with members moving to Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. Central and South Americans have filled the pews, she said.

Sounds of the Brentwood Firehouse marching band mixed with congas and cowbells as the parade moved along. Data from the 2010 census put the Puerto Rican population in Brentwood at 6,125, a drop from 8,254 in 2000. The Central and South American populations rose from 11,360 in 2000 to 26,307 in 2010.

An estimated crowd of 50,000 attended the parade, with adults and toddlers waved the Puerto Rican flag, while chants of "Boricua," a colloquial term for Puerto Rican, filled the air.

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) joined in the parade for the first time after redrawn district lines placed some of Brentwood in his district.

King sat in a sports car and sported an Puerto Rican flag.

"It's great to be here" at "this great celebration of a great culture," King said before the parade started.

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