With more than 12,000 people in attendance Sunday, Mineola’s second Portugal Day parade was not just bigger than last year’s, it was likely the biggest Portuguese-themed event in New York history.
Gabriel Marques, chairman of the New York Portuguese Leadership Conference, said the turnout topped the previous record of about 10,000 people last year “Portugal Day NY,” a five-mile run held in Central Park.
“I think the message is very clear: This is the coming of age of the Portuguese community,” Marques said. “We’ve been here about 100 years…we’ve fully matured.”
Portugal Day, officially June 10, commemorates the death in 1580 of renowned poet Luís de Camões, the author of the epic “Os Lusíadas,” and celebrates history and heritage of Portuguese communities across the world.
The village’s inaugural parade last year drew more than 5,000 people, and while organizers hoped for an even larger turnout this year, the 12,000 attendees surpassed “all our objectives,” Marques said.
He estimated that the parade procession, which was about a mile long, featured between 2,500 and 3,000 marchers, while about 9,000 people lined up along the streets to watch.
The parade included more than 20 floats, featuring symbolic depictions of ships, dolphins and airplanes.
“We’re starting to see a renewed excitement for the community, a legitimate effort to promote our culture,” Marques said. “You could see that. You could feel that.”
Mineola is home to perhaps the largest and most active Portuguese-American community in the state, Marques said, and Portuguese groups across the state and the Northeast showed up in force, with clubs hailing from Westchester to Washington D.C.
“As the weather looked like it was holding up, more people started to come out,” Marques said. “Even those groups (from out of town) got more people coming than they initially anticipated.”
And while most people were of Portuguese heritage, Marques said many of the were local residents excited to see the bustling activity in the village and some of the marchers represented other nationalities, including the Mineola Irish American Society and a Spanish-American club from Queens.
“There were a lot of non-Portuguese with us,” Marques said. “We were very proud to have those other cultures involved.”
State Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola), Nassau County’s Portuguese Man of the Year in 2012, served as the grand marshal for the parade along with Portuguese Secretary of State for Equality and Parliamentary Affairs Teresa Morais.
“The secretary of state, having her there really made it special because we were able to share the parade with somebody that will take our message back,” Marques said. “She was smiling — she had such a great time — she said that if she didn’t live in Portugal, New York was one of the places she would want to live.”
Marques chalked the strong turnout to the good weather and said the Portuguese community’s enthusiasm on social media helped. The festivities also included performances by a Portuguese pop artist and traditional Portuguese food, dance and folk music.
Marques added that the sheer emotion made the Portugal parade stand out and turned it into more than just another parade.
“People were just genuinely happy to be part of the parade,” he said. “They had a stage to profess their love of Portugal and Portuguese culture.”