One of the most vibrant and colorful parts of the Mineola community is its Portuguese population.
“Take a look at where this community has come from; take a look at where many of you were 30 or 40 years ago, living modest lives in Portugal or sons and daughters living modest lives in Portugal,” Gabriel Marques said to a 250-plus crowd at the last Thursday night for the inaugural Portugal Day celebration. “Think about the 3,000 mile journey you made and somehow ended up in the middle of Nassau County.”
The Portuguese community in Nassau started grew several hundred in 1970’s to 7,500 large, 55 percent of which were born in the United States. “Think about not only the growth, not only the 30,00 in New York State but think about those children as they’ve grown up and what they’ve started to contribute to this country,” Marques continued.
Being the first member of the community elected to public office, first as a trustee to the , then , those whom represent bestowed upon the current New York State Senator the title of the inaugural Portuguese-American of the Year.
“He certainly is a shining example of a great public official,” Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said. “He is someone that has dedicated his life to making our community better, more affordable and safer; somebody that is proud of his heritage.”
Martins, himself the son of immigrant parents Gloria and Antonio, remarked that “what an opportunity for a relatively recent community – how far we’ve come. We are all here either immigrants or the sons of immigrants who left their country and here we are in a short period of time united as a community representing a small nucleus, the culture, the heritage, the history that is Portugal. We are Americans – all of us. We are committed to our country and we are here as Americans who have not forgotten that we are Portuguese or of Portuguese descent. We are here to celebrate all those things that unites us in our joined culture.”
He continued asking people to “look around – this is what your sacrifice has brought to light: a united community that stands strong and has been able to elect officials and see that through your support we have had success.”
It was about 12 years ago that then-Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio visited Mineola on the behest of then-Gov. George Pataki and was considered a momentous day by the people of the community.
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“Today the Portuguese community of Mineola is well-established as we know even though many Portuguese-Americans have decided to move to neighboring communities, Mineola’s still considered the heart and soul of the Portuguese community,” current Mineola Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira said, also giving a history of the Portuguese in the United States to the crowd. “I cannot think of a more deserving person to be recognized as the first-ever Portuguese-American representative in Nassau County, in New York State and I certainly can’t think of anybody better to receive the honor that he’s being recognized for tonight as Nassau County Man of the Year. He has put this community on his shoulders, he has represented us well, he has made us proud and I, speaking for myself, he’s not only a friend he’s become a mentor to me.”
Nassau County Clerk Maureen O’Connell, who is also a Mineola resident, said that “having grown up in Mineola and gone to school my entire life side-by-side with the Portuguese-American community I never really said ‘well that’s the Portuguese community and I’m a different community,’ we all grew up here together here in Mineola, having attended and . But I can always just remember some of my earliest Girl Scout leaders, church teachers, spiritual leaders, some of the women in the community – Portuguese women – who had great influence positively on my life growing up.”
Said Nassau Comptroller George Maragos: “Everything is possible in this country,” recalling his own background as a poor immigrant boy from Greece. “We all came here to achieve our American dream and many of us in this building have achieved our American dream but it is not over yet; we are still living the dream, the dream continues.”
Musical presentations and several rounds of dancing were also performed by the Mineola Flolclorico Dancers.
“I never thought I’d be dancing here tonight,” Mineola said after having been pulled into the festivities. “You guys are the heart of the community and you’ve integrated yourselves into the community but you are the community. I greatly appreciate everything that you’ve done for Mineola, you’ve come here with open arms, we’ve embraced you with open hearts and you’re opening your hears to everybody here.”