Portugal Day Parade founder honored as grand marshal

Portugal Day Parade founder honored as grand marshal
A Portuguese flag flies at the 2016 Portugal Day Parade in Mineola. (Photo from New York Portuguese-American Leadership Conference on Facebook)

Rosa Leal was instrumental in starting Mineola’s Portugal Day Parade in 2014 and has seen the annual event grow into a huge celebration of culture that draws more than 10,000 people.

This year, she’s being honored as the parade’s grand marshal. But the 61-year-old Woodbury resident said all the ceremony isn’t as important as the work itself.

“I would have done it, recognized or not recognized, because I love my culture, and I do it for the young people,” Leal said.

The fourth annual parade on June 11 is again expected to draw a crowd of at least 10,000 who will march to Wilson Park in Mineola, where the Mineola Portuguese Center will hold its 30th annual Portugal Day Carnival and Feast.

Since its inception, the parade has helped unite the Portuguese-American community across Long Island and around the state, galvanizing young people to continue the culture’s traditions, said Isabelle Marques, president of the New York Portuguese-American Leadership Conference.

“They seem to be very much in tune with promoting their heritage,” Marques said. “They seem to have a need for it.”

About 50 Portuguese organizations from Long Island, New York City and Westchester and Dutchess counties are expected to participate in the parade, Marques said.

Portuguese-Americans make up about 20 percent of the population in Mineola, a village of about 19,000 people, Marques said. It has been said to be one of the highest concentrations of Portuguese-Americans in the state.

Leal came with her parents and nine siblings to the United States from Portugal in 1969, just before she turned 13.

They had come to visit her mother’s family, she said, but her father died in an accident a short time later. Because her mother had no family in Portugal, they stayed in the U.S., Leal said.

The family spent two years in Jamaica, Queens, before moving to Mineola in 1971. Leal opened her own hair salon, My Favorite Haircutters, in the village and ran it for 40 years until her retirement last month. She moved to Woodbury from Mineola in 2000.

Leal serves as the parade planning chairwoman and is a founding member of the Daughters of Portugal, which co-sponsors the parade with the New York Portuguese-American Leadership Conference.

For Leal, the best part of the parade is seeing younger generations wear traditional Portuguese clothes and play traditional music, things she remembers teaching some of the young people.

“They’re so proud to wear it themselves, and I think that’s the biggest impact,” Leal said. “I really enjoy seeing the young people getting involved and them calling me up and asking me to join in — it’s beautiful to see.”

Leal was picked as the parade’s grand marshal by the Portuguese-American Leadership Conference’s 62 member organizations, which represent about 180,000 Portuguese people across the state, Marques said.

She was a strong choice because of her “tremendous work” to unite the community and give it more prominence, Marques said.

The conference also decided to make Mineola Mayor Scott Strauss an honorary grand marshal for his continued support of the parade and Mineola’s Portuguese community, Marques said.

“The participation is tremendous, and we do realize that there is a lot of commitment and a lot of things involved in putting this together at the level of the village, and we know that the mayor has been a tremendous, tremendous friend of our community,” Marques said.

The village’s deputy mayor, Paul Pereira, is of Portuguese descent, as is Jack Martins, the former mayor who went on to become a state senator and is now running for Nassau County executive.

The Portugal Day Parade will start at 11 a.m. on Sunday, June 11, at the Mineola Portuguese Center, located at 306 Jericho Turnpike.

The route proceeds east on Jericho Turnpike, which is renamed Portugal Boulevard for the day, to Roslyn Road, then goes south to Westbury Avenue, east to Union street and ends at Wilson Park.

The Portugal Day Carnival and Feast at the park, running from 1 to 7 p.m., will feature performances by Portuguese pop singers, folklore dancers, marching bands and other entertainers.

About a dozen floats, dozens of classic cars and vintage farm tractors will be in the parade.

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