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Parade theme highlights Puerto Rico's hurricane recovery

Margarita Espada helps prepare Latin American flags that

Margarita Espada helps prepare Latin American flags that will be used at the Puerto Rican Hispanic Day Parade on Sunday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

Marchers with roots all over the globe will display Long Island’s diversity Sunday during the Puerto Rican Hispanic Day Parade in Brentwood.

This year’s parade — the 53rd — is themed “Rebirth,” to highlight the resiliency of Puerto Ricans nearly two years after Hurricane Maria pummeled the Caribbean island, said organizer Margarita Espada, a native of Puerto Rico. She said Hispanics from all walks of life have come together in the name of the island.

“I strongly believe this parade is an opportunity to showcase who we are as a community. What we bring is our diversity,” she said. “The situation in Puerto Rico is really, really tough. With everybody’s help, Puerto Rico is standing up.”

The parade is expected to draw about 50,000 spectators and about 3,000 participants, some wearing traditional garb from countries including Mexico, El Salvador, Colombia and Ecuador.

“We are expecting a big parade this year — like always,” Espada said.

Renee Ortiz, who will serve as the grand marshal, grew up in Central Islip and Brentwood. She said her father, from Puerto Rico, was part of the first wave of Puerto Ricans to relocate to Long Island about 70 years ago.

Ortiz, who now lives in North Carolina, held jobs in government, was a community activist on Long Island and worked for the nonprofit Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding at Suffolk County Community College.

“This parade was so much of my young childhood,” Ortiz said. “This is so special to me, given that my family was one of the first influx of Latinos to the community.”

Ortiz and Espada said unity expressed during this year’s parade is important. Brentwood and Central Islip are viewed by some as dangerous because of MS-13 slayings. That, coupled with how Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, has been a political football after Maria struck in September 2017, makes it important for marchers to show the richness of their cultures along with the vast contributions they bring to Long Island, they said.

“MS-13 is not who we are,” Ortiz said. “Our strength comes from numbers and unity. This is the time to celebrate that.”

As of late May, the United States has pledged more than $40 billion in disaster relief to Puerto Rico, although island authorities had requested more than $90 billion. The hurricane devastated the country’s infrastructure, and its aftermath resulted in more than 3,000 deaths.

“The financial support and other resources was not even close to enough,” Ortiz said.

Espada, founder of the nonprofit Teatro Yerbabruja, based in Bay Shore, plans to present a $15,000 check at the parade to a group helping to restore water wells in Puerto Rico.

Nuestro Ideal, which delivered food via mobile kitchens to Puerto Ricans after the hurricane, is working with St. John’s University, which is making solar-powered pumps to deliver to the island to fix the wells. Queens lawyer Luis Nicho, born in Peru, is a co-founder of the nonprofit and spent his teen years and early adulthood in Brentwood.

“It’s a parade I saw right out my window," he said. "To partake but also be honored, it is truly humbling.”

53rd annual Puerto Rican Hispanic Day Parade

  • Noon to 3 p.m. Sunday, June 2

  • Begins along Fifth Avenue and the Southern State Parkway in North Bay Shore and continues north for about two miles, ending near Third Avenue in Brentwood.

  • For more information, visit facebook.com/events/338110970188584/

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