Older Portuguese-Americans were skeptical when Gabriel Marques and some others started planning Mineola’s first Portugal Day Parade in 2014, Marques said. Some even wrote a letter to the Portuguese ambassador to the U.S. trying to stop it.
But they have come around in the past two years as the parade has grown and achieved the planners’ goal of reconnecting younger Portuguese-Americans with their culture, Marques said.
“The parade is something that’s fun, it’s not complicated, it’s not political,” said Marques, a Mineola native. “It’s just an opportunity for everyone to come out and say ‘I enjoy being Portuguese.’”
Marques will celebrate that success as he leads 3,000 marchers from nearly 40 Portuguese cultural organizations as the grand marshal for Sunday’s third annual Portugal Day Parade, followed by the Mineola Portuguese Center’s annual Portuguese Carnival and Feast at Wilson Park.
About 10,000 people are expected to attend the event, which attracts Portuguese-American people and organizations from Long Island, Westchester County and Hudson Valley and has put New York back on the map as a haven for Portuguese culture in the U.S., Marques said.
Sponsored by the New York Portuguese-American Leadership Conference and the Daughters of Portugal, the parade is part of a larger effort to unify the local Portuguese community and get younger people more involved, Marques said.
Nassau County’s first Portugal Day Celebration in 2012 reminded local Portuguese-Americans that the community was not dwindling, as some had thought, Marques said. But younger people still felt they lacked a way introduce their children to Portuguese culture, he said.
“The community was ready for something like this to come along, and nobody was really sure where this type of excitement was going to come from,” he said.
Marques and other Portuguese-American leaders on Long Island worked to plan the first parade, but he said he remembers getting a haircut from Parade Chairman Rosa Leal and telling her he wasn’t sure it would work.
Efforts to put on a similar event had fallen short in the past, said Leal, 50, a member of the Portuguese Lions Club and the president and founder of the Daughters of Portugal.
But she believed in the parade from the beginning, she said, and has led efforts to organize it for all three years.
“I get so excited the day of the parade that I lose my voice, because it’s so beautiful to see,” Leal said.
Mineola’s 5,000 Portuguese-American residents comprise about 20 percent of the village’s population and the largest concentration of Portuguese-Americans in New York, Marques said.
The parade and the New York Portuguese-American Leadership Conference’s other work have ushered in a “golden age” for the community, Marques said, as the group has become more visible and drawn recognition from Portuguese political leaders.
“People feel that we’re not so different from the Italians or the Irish,” he said. “We’re just another part of the fabric of the community in Nassau County and Long Island and we have a right to be here.”
Portugal has seen the local community’s economic viability and re-established the national airline at John F. Kennedy Airport as divides among New York’s Portuguese-Americans have continued to narrow, he said.
Now the statewide leadership conference, of which Marques was president for two years, is looking to “create the next generation of leaders” among young Portuguese-Americans, he said.
The Portugal Day Parade will feature floats representing each major city in Portugal and the mayor of the city of Vedu, Leal said.
The Portuguese Carnival and Feast, a 30-year tradition of the Mineola Portuguese Center, one of the village’s three Portuguese cultural clubs, will immediately follow the parade this year, as it did in 2014, Marques said. It will feature Portuguese food, rides, games and a soccer tournament.
Village of Mineola Trustee Paul Pereira, Fernando Trindade from Suffolk County and Melissa Motto from Westchester County will assist Marques as aides.
The parade starts at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, at the Mineola Portuguese Center at 306 Jericho Turnpike and will proceed east on Jericho Turnpike — known as Portugal Boulevard that day — to Roslyn Road. Marchers will then head south on Roslyn Road to Westbury Avenue, then east on Westbury Avenue to Union Street.
The carnival and feast starts at 1 p.m.