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Crowds hail Brentwood Puerto Rican parade

Johnny Castro, of Brentwood, walks down Fifth Avenue

Johnny Castro, of Brentwood, walks down Fifth Avenue holding Puerto Rican flags during the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade in Brentwood. (July 22, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

Cheers of "Viva, Puerto Rico!" mingled with amplified Latin music Sunday as thousands converged on Fifth Avenue in Brentwood to celebrate their heritage as well as the rescue of the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade from the brink of cancellation.

"The Puerto Rico parade lives on!" an emcee announced to a jubilant crowd.

"It's a tradition," reveler Maria Goldman, 37, of West Babylon, said. "And if it didn't exist, it would break a lot of people's hearts."

The 46th annual parade, originally scheduled to step off in early June, had been canceled by nonprofit Adelante of Suffolk County because of lack of funding.

But new organizers -- nonprofit Teatro Yerbabruja of Central Islip and state Assemb. Philip Ramos (D-Brentwood) -- intervened and raised $40,000 in two months through community outreach and corporate sponsors, Ramos said. The event was rescheduled.

"It shows a growing civic consciousness in the community -- a community that was silent for years today holds its head up high and makes things happen for itself," Ramos said Sunday in an interview.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci were among the politicians in attendance.

Spectators and marchers waved Puerto Rican and U.S. flags. Most wore red, white and blue T-shirts, caps and jewelry. The flags of other Latin American communities were flown, including those of El Salvador, Colombia and Guatemala.

"It's very diverse. It used to be all Puerto Rican," Juan Muñoz, 40, of Bay Shore, said of the changing local demographics. "It's a good melting pot, a good soup."

Muñoz, of West Islip Youth Enrichment Services Inc., a nonprofit, led about 25 teenage marchers wearing garments made from flags of many Hispanic nations.

"We're representing a lot of people," said Wendy Vergaray, 17, of Central Islip, who is of Peruvian descent.

Farther along the route, Alex Miranda, 35, of Bay Shore, wore a football jersey that read "boricua," a term for a person of Puerto Rican descent.

"I hope it gets bigger," he said of the parade.

Kayley Pineda, 14, of Brentwood, who remembered attending the annual celebration from an early age, said she was impressed with the turnout.

"It shows the pride that people have," she said.

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