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Latino Parade Unites 'Family'
By J. Jioni Palmer
June 3, 2002
For Carlos Vargas, being among the tens of thousands of onlookers each year at the Puerto Rican and Hispanic Day Parade in Brentwood is like going to a family reunion.
The vibe yesterday along Fifth Avenue, the hub of Suffolk County's burgeoning Latino community, Vargas said, was warm and inviting as throngs of people decked out in the colors of various Latin American and Caribbean countries swayed to a rotating mix of salsa, merengue and hip-hop.
"I feel like I'm with family," said Vargas, 35, of Bay Shore. "Coming out is like a tradition. I always have a good time, see old friends and meet new ones. It's the best way to start the summer."
For 36 years, Adelante of Suffolk County Inc., a civic and cultural organization, has sponsored the annual event in which spectators from throughout the region make a strong display of cultural heritage and pride.
Suffolk County Police said an estimated 50,000 people attended yesterday's parade, which had the theme "Honoring and Remembering our Heroes and Victims of September 11th."
The colors of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Argentina were displayed on headbands, key chains, hats and flags, which were draped over cars and swung through the air.
Legions of vendors lined the parade route, hawking trinkets and sumptuous smelling delectables such as empanadas, which are meat patties, and shish kebabs.
Rose Santiago came from the Bronx to sell her wares: a table loaded with hats, T-shirts, pens, necklaces and other goods.
She's been traveling to Brentwood for the parade for the past three years, she said, each more profitable than the last. More importantly, she said, the event showcases the strength of the region's Latino community and the diversity within.
"There is a lot of culture on display," Santiago said. "I'm Puerto Rican, but this is a day for all Hispanic people."
Long Island's Latino population has skyrocketed 71 percent during the past 10 years, according to U.S. Census data. Latinos account for 10.3 percent of the population, up from 6.3 percent a decade ago. Most of that growth is attributed to an influx of immigrants from nations such as El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.
The Latino community's growing numbers have garnered the attention of elected officials. The State Legislature recently created an Assembly district centered in Brentwood that would be favorable to a Latino candidate. Suffolk County lawmakers are said to be mulling a plan to create a similar district.
Because the governor, the entire State Legislature and members of Congress are up for re-election this year, a slew of Long Island's politicians marched in the parade, asking for support yesterday from the region's fastest-growing minority group. But Vargas didn't have politics on his mind yesterday.
"I'm here to have a good time and hang out with my brother-in-law," he said. "To me that's what this is all about."