A ‘Happy People’ Celebrate a Shared History

A firefighter waves the Puerto Rican flag at the Hispanic Day Parade. (Photo by Karen Petree/Voices of NY)

Bryana Ferreira (bottom left) and her cousin (far right) march with fellow Brazilians. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Dancers wore clothes that are typically used during traditional celebrations in their home countries. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Stefany Vega helps her friend Lucy Martínez adjust her outfit. Martínez is the Queen of the Pollera (the dress) in Panamá. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Many of the participants waved more than one flag, in this case, a woman displays both her Peruvian and American pride. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

A dancer from Bolivia wears colorful traditional attire. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Sandra Barrios, originally from Mexico City, says the Hispanic Day Parade is important for children like her son to learn more about their roots. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Children of Mexican descent, dressed in the green, red and white colors of the country’s flag, march along Fifth Avenue. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Lourdes Castro, from Uruguay, holds her country’s flags and also Mexico’s where her husband hails from. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Jocelyn Delgado, a New York-born 7-year-old with Peruvian roots, was chosen as the beauty queen in the kids category. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

A dancer from Peru rests her feet after the five-hour parade on Fifth Avenue. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Vice Queen Imara Rosconi, 17, of Uruguay, is chosen to represent the beauty of Latin America for the second year in a row. (Photo by Mariana Romina Marcaletti/Voices of NY)

Dennis Ferreira looked at his 5-year-old daughter Bryana Ferreira while she was dancing as part of the Uruguayan candombe ensemble during Sunday’s Hispanic Day Parade along Fifth Avenue.

He made sure his girl’s bright silver suit was properly tied, then said: “This is why this festival is so important, if it weren’t for celebrations like this one, my daughter wouldn’t have the chance to see her family’s rituals with her own eyes.”

Ferreira is not the only one who thinks events like the Hispanic Day Parade – which gathered thousands of marchers and spectators on Fifth Avenue from 44th to 66th Streets – is the only opportunity for young Latinos living in New York to find out more about their roots.

Every year, the October parade brings together people from Spanish-speaking Latin America: From the southern countries of Uruguay, Chile and Argentina to the Caribbean to Bolivia and Peru and the Central and North American nations of Panama, Costa Rica and Mexico, to name a few of the 19 countries that participate.

Even Portuguese-speaking Brazilians joined the celebrations, showcasing traditional dresses and music for flag-waving paradegoers who encouraged the marchers to dance and keep on smiling for over five hours.

The mother of the parade’s Child Queen, Jocelyne Delgado, spent the day looking after her 7-year-old daughter who kept losing her handcrafted tiara while dancing.

“I am so proud of my baby,” said the mother, Betsy Hurtado, who walked for hours carrying her daughter’s additional makeup and clothes. “This is my kid’s passion. It is unbelievable that she maintains Peruvian traditions this well.”

Hurtado moved here with her husband 14 years ago, so Jocelyne was born and raised in Yonkers in Westchester County. The mother thinks that, through dancing and speaking Spanish, her daughter will keep her Peruvian culture, without losing her American side.

“My daughter makes me feel as if I were back home,” Hurtado said with tears in her eyes, confessing that she still misses her parents who are in Peru.

Paradegoer Sandra Barrios, originally from Mexico City, agreed with Hurtado that Hispanic children, like her 2-year-old son she was holding in her arms, are the ones who are supposed to keep Latino culture alive.

“Of course I teach him Spanish,” Barrios said. “And I make him speak Spanish at home. If I don’t do that, how will he talk to his grandparents? They are in Mexico and they don’t speak a word of English.”

Most of the special outfits marchers wore were especially commissioned for the occasion. Every group that represents a country can spend over a year getting ready for the event.

Marchers paid attention to every single detail. The performances had to reflect the demanding rehearsals that came before, dresses and makeup had to represent the colors of their home countries’ flags. Every tiny piece made sense as if it were a piece of a bigger puzzle they were trying to put together, with elements of their American present and inherited parts of a still-fresh Latino history.

For children, representing their parents’ home country is a way for them to keep a connection to a past they never experienced but that lingers in their everyday life.

“This is for our cultures’ sake,” said César Mendoza, a parade dancer who is from Peru and has lived on Long Island for the past 27 years. “When I say ‘culture’ I always use the plural form. Latin America is not only one, but a melting pot of different expressions.”

In spite of the differences, there has to be something besides the Spanish language that unites Latin Americans. According to Mendoza, that something is a certain kind of “shared” personality: “We all have the same attitude towards life, we are happy people, we like helping one another.”

The Hispanic Day Parade not only welcomes the 2.4 million New Yorkers of Latino heritage, but also New Yorkers in general, tourists and Latinos visiting especially for the occasion.

Stefany Vega, Lucy Martínez and Carlos Ocaña came exclusively to take part in the celebration. The trio from Panama had a single plan in mind: Showing the world the characteristics of the pollera, a handmade dress that used to be worn by Panamanian women when working, and now it is a costly, treasured attire for parties.

Lucy Martínez is the Queen of the Pollera, and she has travelled all over the world promoting the symbol of her homeland.

Her friend Ocaña explained why he thinks celebrations like the Hispanic Day Pared are relevant.

“This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to socialize with people from other Latino countries, and also a chance to show others what our nations are all about,” he said. “The Hispanic spirit – of friendliness, family, of outspoken attitudes and nostalgia-driven citizens – is something that all nations have in common.”

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