Story by Kristina Hoti
Warwick celebrated its seventh annual Hispanic Heritage Parade and Celebration on Sun., Sept 23. The festive parade began at 4:30 p.m. and marched from the Warwick Reformed Church, localted at 16 Maple Ave. and proceeded down Main St. to the celebration at the Railroad Green.
Represented in the parade, with colorful costumes, and flags proudly waved, were the countries of Mexico, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, and Colombia, and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.
Members of the community were honored for their contributions and support of the Hispanic community in Warwick. The event took place during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which lasts from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, and is a time to celebrate the heritage, culture, and contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans. The organizations that made this event possible were the Spanish Ministry at the Warwick Reformed Church, Warwick Immigrant Neighbors (WIN,) the Village of Warwick and the DPW, ShopRite, and DJ Bayaney, who provided music, sound and lighting. The theme for this year’s celebration was “Unified in Diversity,” which was espoused and personified by the honorees who spoke.
Dancing & Delicious Food Tasting
As the parade arrived at the Railroad Green, Los Chinelos, traditional Mexican dancers in elaborate and colorful costumes, danced in the street, and then again once inside the presentation area, pulling members of the crowd to join them. Los Chinelos dancers originated in the Mexican state of Morelos, and date back to the early 19th century, when the area’s native inhabitants were banned from participating in the Carnaval festivities. A group of young people dressed in old clothes, covering their faces with wooden masks, and dancing in the streets, mock the Spaniards and Creoles who had been oppressing them. Today, Los Chinelos traditionally perform during Carnaval, Easter week, and on patron saint’s feast days.
As the crowd gathered into seats arranged on the Railroad Green, Rev. Linden DeBie opened with a welcome prayer and a blessing of the food, which was then served from three different food tents, each representing a different country. Food was free to all attending, with donations accepted. Pork tacos with a variety of toppings were available at the Mexican tent, meatballs with peppers, braised pork, chicken, fried plantains, and rice and beans were available at the Dominican tent, and chicken empanadas served with pickled red cabbage and plantains were served from the El Salvadorian tent.
Important Contributions Recognized
After food was served, the program got underway, starting with the U.S. National Anthem, followed by Latin International Anthems. There was a moment of silence for all who have lost their lives in pursuit of a better life, followed by the Luz del Mondo choir, which sang a song of praise.
Village of Warwick Mayor Michael Newhard then spoke, offering a warm welcome to everyone. He said, “As you are so proud of your culture, we are proud of you, and of having you as part of our Village and Town. Our relationships make us stronger.”
Newhard then joined with Rev. Linden DeBie, in honoring Israel Mercado and Diego Sanchez, two leaders in the Hispanic community of Warwick.
Event organizer Oscar Figuero and Rev. Rolfi Elivo then honored Theresa Mack, the very first person to volunteer when this event was in its inception, and Mimi Fader. Of Fader, Figuero said, “Thank you Mimi, because you have been here every month, a leader in campaigns, medical checks, and a big support for our community.” Also honored were Liz Houlton and Jim Neujahr.
Theresa Mack said, “I speak for all my friends and the many people who have come forward. You are our neighbors, we are one. All Americans were immigrants once. We feel grateful to you for opening your hearts to us.”
The evening’s final honoree, recognized by Mayor Newhard and Rev. Rolfi Elivo, was Mary Collura. Mary spoke about dear friends that she has made during her involvement with Warwick Immigrant Neighbors. She spoke of close friendships, of sisterhood, of common interests, common goals, and common priorities, but mentioned one small problem: a language barrier. She asked an important question: “How can you have such a close friendship when you share only a few words in common? Actions speak louder than words. You smile, you share vegetables from your garden, you hold the baby. Actions.”
To conclude the program, a representative spoke from Nobody Leaves Mid-Hudson, a grassroots organization based in the Hudson Valley, made up predominantly of working-class people of color, who fight for issues that affect their community. A list was presented to Mayor Newhard and to Warwick Town Supervisor Michael Sweeton of the names of people seeking legal identification, and an appeal was made for help in keeping these residents in the Hudson Valley. Newhard offered thanks for the hard work and dedication to helping the community.
Sweeton added, “It is the American way to petition the government, so we will see where this goes.”
A Diverse Community Joins Together
At the conclusion of the program, Los Chinelos donned their festive costumes once more and music filled the Railroad Green while the diverse and united crowd celebrated together.
Warwick resident Crystal Baker-Burr attended the event with her children, Andrew (7), Ariella (5), and Amara (4 months). “The Hispanic Heritage Celebration showed us just how wonderfully diverse our community here in Warwick is. It is beautiful to see the Railroad Green lit up in celebration of the Latin community. I feel so lucky to live in a town that provides space for all of its residents to be celebrated,” Baker-Burr said.