When the Portugal Day Parade starts at Chaminade High School on Sunday, June 12, those beginning steps will indicate more than just the start of what has become a beloved cultural celebration. It’ll represent the changing shift that’s occurred in the Portuguese community over the last five years, a community that was once divided and isolated, and has now become thriving and vibrant.
Much of the change can be attributed to the efforts of the New York Portuguese-American Leadership Conference (NYPALC), a 25-year organization that was revived five years ago by Gabriel Marques and Rosa Leal. The group seeks to bring together all the Portuguese organizations and groups in the state in an effort to promote culture and help younger generations connect to their heritage, something the community had struggled with in the past.
“Second and third generation Portuguese didn’t know the language, they weren’t accustomed to the cultural things. There were no organizations to connect with. We said it was time to work together for the benefit of our kids,” said Marques, a Mineola native who is serving as the grand marshal for this year’s parade, with village trustee Paul Pereira as aide. “Ideas were discussed, put into action, and ever since then, the sky has been the limit.”
In 2012, as part of their community outreach efforts, they held the inaugural Portugal Day celebration at the Nassau County Legislative Chambers, an event that drew 400 people. By the third year, the community had outgrown their indoor venue and under the auspices of the Daughters of Portugal, NYPALC held a grand parade in Mineola, the official Portugal Day parade for the whole state. Since then, they’ve never looked back.
This year’s parade is expected to draw 3,000 marchers—including floats, dancers, bands, soccer teams, politicians and antique cars—as well as 10,000 onlookers from across the state. Because this year’s parade ends at the Mineola Portuguese Center’s carnival (which takes place June 10-12 at Wilson Park), Marques said this year’s event is expected to be the biggest one yet. Another huge victory for this year’s parade is it marks the first year that every Portuguese group in the state—46 in total—will be marching. Marques said that was a goal NYPALC had set five years ago, and accomplishing it is a sign of the changing times.
“I think the community has arrived,” Marques said. “There are kids now that are turning five or six and all they remember is the community working together. Everybody has a level of satisfaction, saying we’ve accomplished this. It’s a warm feeling.”
“Before we had individual clubs, but we didn’t have this unity,” added Leal, parade co-chair and president of the Daughters of Portugal. “NYPALC got the community united again and it’s working beautifully. We have had very good success. We want to put our culture out there for younger groups and keep the culture alive and show [others our] customs.”
The 1.5 mile parade route steps off at 340 Jackson Ave. in Mineola at 11 a.m., heads east to Jericho Turnpike to Roslyn Road, heads south to Westbury Avenue, east to Union Street and then ends at Wilson Park where it will conclude at the Mineola Portuguese Center Carnival and Feast.
To find out more about the parade, visit www.facebook.com/NYPortuguese or email firstname.lastname@example.org.