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53rd Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade celebrates unity, resiliency

Denalis Lopez of Central Islip dances in the

Denalis Lopez of Central Islip dances in the 53rd annual Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade in Brentwood on Sunday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Thousands of people lined the streets of Fifth Avenue in Brentwood and North Bay Shore on Sunday to watch and cheer a parade that celebrates Latin American pride and the unity of the area’s Latino cultures and communities.

The 53rd annual Puerto Rican/Hispanic Day Parade featured traditional Ecuadorian dancers, Salvadoran military veterans, a Puerto Rican cultural group, and salsa, cumbia and ranchera music blaring from speakers on the sidewalks and from parade marchers' cars and trucks.

“This is my people, my Hispanic people,” Julio Vigil, 50, said in Spanish as he leaned on the chain-link fence outside his apartment while a contingent from a local nonprofit walked by and waved.

Vigil, a Salvadoran immigrant, likes how "you see so many nationalities" in the blocks surrounding where he lives in North Bay Shore.

"This is the only time you see everyone, different cultures, in one place," he said. 

Yanira Ramirez,42, of North Bay Shore, also a Salvadoran immigrant, said in Spanish that “it’s important the community be united. There are differences among our cultures, but on the other hand, no matter where we’re from, we’re all equal.”

This year’s parade featured about 3,000 people marching in 83 groups along the two-mile route, said organizer Margarita Espada, the founder of the Bay Shore-based group that runs the event, Teatro Experimental Yerbabruja.

For years after its founding in 1967, the event was called the Puerto Rican Day Parade. “Hispanic” was added in the 1980s to reflect the increasing diversity of Brentwood’s Latin American community.

In 1990, a majority of Latinos in Brentwood were Puerto Rican, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Today, only about 15 percent are, and more than half are of Central American background, most of them Salvadoran.

Yet “we care for each other,” Espada said. Long Islanders with roots from across Latin America — as well as non-Latinos — contributed to Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria in September 2017, which killed more than 3,000 people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage, said Espada, a native of Puerto Rico. The “rebirth” of Puerto Rico following the disaster was the theme of this year’s event.

Alex Balle, 32, of Medford, was marching with Ballet Folklorico Xochiquetzal, a traditional Mexican dance troupe from Medford. But he hoisted a red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag, to honor the parade's founders and organizers.

"This is to show respect to them," said Balle, as two of his cousins danced a few dozen feet ahead of him. "You don't go to someone's house without bringing something. We appreciate them giving us the opportunity to come here."

Naomi Villegas, 17, wore a dress with thick red, blue and yellow stripes — the colors of the Venezuelan flag. She is of Ecuadorean ancestry but, she said in Spanish, "with all that's happening there [in Venezuela's economic and political crisis], I wanted to show support. I feel like as Latinos we're all united."

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