The thousands of people who flooded into the Town of Hempstead parking lot on Sunday for Central American Day were celebrating more than their Hispanic roots. They were commemorating the political independence of their respective nations.
Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, because those dates memorialize two centuries of freedom from Spain’s dominion over Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America.
El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Nicaragua observe Sept. 15 as their Independence Day. Those five countries formed the Central American Federation during the early 1800s. On September 15, 1821, the federation declared independence from Spain.
By the late 1840s, the United States formally recognized each of the five as self-governing nations.
Mexico and Chile both began their battles for independence in 1810: Mexico on Sept. 16, and Chile on Sept. 18.
Hispanic Heritage Month also includes Oct. 12, the controversial Columbus Day.
On Sunday at Town Hall, the rejoicing focused on Central America, including Panama, whose Independence Day was Nov. 28, 1821.
As Honduran singer-dancer Mayra Tercero and singer Michelle Hernandez belted out greetings from a large temporary stage, hungry arrivals clustered at food stands to buy elotes (corn on the cob), empanadas, arepas (corn cakes filled with cheese), horchata (a sweet milky drink made with rice), and many other foods rooted in Central America.
They bought shirts, flags, hats, and toys emblazoned with blue and white, the common colors of the Central American nations’ flags (Costa Rica’s flag also has a broad red stripe). They took their children to romp through a huge bouncy house and slide, to ride a colorful wooden train, or to scoot along on little wheeled hobby horses.
And they burst into applause for the succession of performers onstage, laughing delightedly at the Salvadoran-born clown Carlos Sandoval, better known by his stage name, Pizarrín, as he traded quips with his female associate.
“¿Donde está El Salvado-o-o-o-or?” shouted Pizarrín, and an answering roar went up.
“For Central Americans, this festival is very important,” said Idis “Leo” Rodriguez, proprietor of Linda’s Restaurant on Main St. in Hempstead, “because they are celebrating not just one day, but the month of independence days.”
Rodriguez, a Honduran native, operated the New York Barbershop on Main Street for 10 years before closing it to open Linda’s in 2017. As he watched the performers, he added, “When we celebrate here, all we can do is have festivals. In our own countries, we can do anything we want. Colleges compete from everywhere, with parades and dances.”
The flowing ruffled skirts that are traditional to Mexican and Central American dances were featured by the dance group Crash El Salvador. Two men and two women made a relatively small stage look free and unconfined as they leaped and twirled to the stirring beats of Latin music.
The event was one of many organized by Comité Cívico Salvadoreño, Inc., which is based in Hempstead. Its mission includes benefiting the elderly and handicapped by providing wheelchairs and other help. But it has a larger mission of fostering community.
“In America, diversity is growing,” said Kawaljit Chandi, executive director of the Comité. “We celebrate the independence of Central America to help bring all the Central American countries together. Everybody grows when they work together. (Town Supervisor) Don Clavin with open hands embraces all the Hispanic communities here, which is great.”
In the afternoon, Chandi and the president of Comité Cívico Salvadoreño, Vivian Pereira, with Hempstead Town Executive Director of Community Affairs Zahid Syed, conducted a ceremony to honor five people for their contributions to local society: Leo Rodriguez; Carlos Sandoval; Selvin peirector general of U.S. Federal Chaplains New York; Enrique Maldonado, owner of Jalpeño Grill in Hempstead; and Larissa Medrano, who operates a Hempstead cargo firm.
Hempstead Village Mayor Waylyn Hobbs, Jr., also greeted the crowd. Hobbs recently went to San Salvador, capital of El Salvador, with Comité Cívico Salvadoreño to foster friendship with the Hispanic community.
As the event stretched peacefully into the evening, Pereira had a word for the many who came.
“We thank all our community, which has supported this event since 2003,” Pereira said. “As Comité Cívico Salvadoreño, we have organized in order to display our culture, our folklore, our music, and our delicious cuisine in a single location. It is important not to forget our roots, and only in unity can we continue organizing this type of event. Thank you for your support, thank you for coming, thank you for feeling proud to be Central American! ¡Viva Centroamérica!”