Portugal Day Parade kicks off day of pride in Mineola

Gabrielle Deonath

“This is what it means to be Portuguese,” Cynthia Assuncao, 22, said on Sunday as she participated in the third annual Portugal Day Parade and carnival in Mineola. “No matter how far you are from home, it’s always nice to come together at parades like this. It’s very enriching to express my culture in this way.”

Over 10,000 spectators came together to celebrate Portuguese culture at the event. 

The parade began at 11 a.m. at the Mineola Portuguese Center on Jericho Turnpike, which was labeled Portugal Boulevard on Sunday. The marchers proceeded down Jericho Turnpike to Wilson Park, the site of the Portuguese Carnival and Feast, by way of Roslyn Road, Westbury Avenue and Union Street.

The grand marshal, Gabriel Marques, and the honorary marshals led the parade, followed by motorcycles, motor vehicles and floats bearing the flags of major Portuguese cities. The 2,500 participants included members of the Ladies Auxiliary Portuguese American Club of Mineola, the Daughters of Portugal, the American Foundation for Charities of Portugal, the Portuguese Lions Club, the Portuguese Heritage Society and the Mineola Portuguese Soccer Club, among other clubs. Some of the marchers wore traditional clothing. Portuguese music blared from the speakers of some floats, while others held musicians and singers who performed live. 

The carnival and feast, which started at 1 p.m., provided family fun after the parade with rides and carnival games for the children. 

Marques said that the parade was created to engage the Portuguese youth with their culture and bring unity to the local Portuguese community.

“Five or six years ago, the community was dying,” said Marques. “Local Portuguese centers wouldn’t speak to each other, and there was a very isolationist atmosphere amongst their members.”

However, now the parade leads everyone to come together and embrace the unity, Marques said.

He also said that this year’s parade saw the highest participation of youth from elementary school to college. The youngest children in this year’s parade were around age 3, and there were over 100 students from the local Portuguese schools waving from the floats and marching in the parade. The young people who took part in the parade in previous years continue to come back, Marques added, demonstrating the parade’s success in bringing the Portuguese youth closer to their heritage.

Lizeth Fernandes is a local woman of Mexican descent who attended the parade with her Portuguese husband and their young daughter. Fernandes said that her husband has wanted her to embrace the Portuguese culture more, and the parade provides her with that opportunity. Her daughter, who was not very close to her Portuguese roots previously, now wants to learn the Portuguese language after attending the parade and carnival for the past two years. Fernandes added that she is now strongly considering sending her daughter to a Portuguese school in the next school year.

“We will definitely be here again next year,” said Fernandes.

In the three years that the parade has   existed, it has gone through many changes. In 2014, the parade was immediately followed by the carnival and was also held during the same weekend as the Portugal Day Parade in Newark, N.J. As an experiment to see if the parade could stand on its own, said Marques, the following year, the parade and carnival in Mineola were hosted on separate days. In addition, the Portugal Day Parade was moved up a week before the parade in Newark. However, this year, the organizers returned to their 2014 model for the parade.

“The parade is getting bigger, and we can compete with big parades like the one in Newark,” said Marques.

According to Marques, the feedback from this year’s event was positive all around.

“This year, we were more effective and organized,” Marques said. “We’ve worked out the kinks, and we have found a baseline for the coming years.”

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