Cathy Figueroa, wearing Puerto Rican flag earrings and a beaded necklace, danced to salsa music Sunday in Brentwood as fire trucks and marching bands passed in the 51st Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day parade.
“I love all the noise, all the people. Everyone coming together. It’s the beginning of summer,” said Figueroa, 49, a certified nursing assistant from Brentwood, as she watched from the sidewalk.
This year’s parade held extra meaning, Figueroa said.
“With all the controversy with MS-13 — this is good,” she said pointing to the parade. “Not all of Brentwood is bad. There are good people here.”
Tens of thousands of people turned out for the event, which organizers hoped would energize and unite a community still healing from several brutal murders attributed to the violent street gang.
“This is a day of unity, to celebrate our cultures,” said Suffolk Legis. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood), the parade’s grand marshal. “Despite what’s going on, what this really shows is solidarity.”
About 3,000 people from 74 groups marched up Fifth Avenue in the hamlet, which has one of the largest concentrations of Latinos on Long Island. Vendors hawked empanadas and shaved ices as sunny skies at the start of the parade turned to a light drizzle near the end.
Amid waving Puerto Rican flags, Keisha Brown, 40, ran from the sidewalk to take a bottle of water to her niece, Monica Nicely, in the Brentwood High School’s Green Machine color guard.
Brown said she has been coming to the parade all her life.
“I love the spirit of it and what it stands for — people coming together. It’s beautiful,” she said. “Everyone hears so many sad things about Brentwood, it’s great to see the good things.”
Oscar Montoya, 55, of Mastic came two hours early to stake out a prime spot, as he and his family have for 12 years.
“I’m 100 percent Puerto Rican and we come to celebrate our Puerto Rican heritage,” he said.
His daughter, Kamilla Montoya, 12, said the event has become a celebration of the diverse Hispanic community in the area.
“I like to see all the different cultures that come here. Everyone has a culture to show,” she said.
Margarita Espada, founder of Teatro Yerbabruja, the nonprofit cultural center that runs the event, cited the new groups in the parade this year.
“This is a rich community of diverse backgrounds,” she said. “We need to build bridges and celebrate others,” she said. “As a community we have had a crisis with this gang issue . . . and the parade symbolizes a moment of celebration, of coming back together and uniting without political or group divisions.”
As usual, the festivities featured salsa music, dancing in the streets, and the showcasing of the community’s civic groups — this year under the slogan “United More than Ever.”
Suffolk Police Department Lt. Tom Zagajeski said there were no incidents at the parade. Police levels were similar to what they were in prior years.
With Víctor Manuel Ramos