Mineola: The Next Best Thing to Portugal

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Each month, Long Island Wins Executive Director Maryann Sinclair Slutsky publishes a column in the Anton Community Newspapers. Here’s the October 2013 column:

Gabriel Marques grew up in Mineola, the child of working-class Portuguese immigrants. His parents came to the U.S. in the late 70’s during a wave of Portuguese immigration that has made Mineola one of the most culturally interesting places around.

While our recent debates on immigration have focused largely on immigrants from Latin America, it’s important to remember: Immigrants come to Nassau County from all over the world, including Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Across the world, America and Long Island specifically are seen by aspiring Americans as a place to work hard and take care of your family.

Long Island’s robust Portuguese community is one that hasn’t been part of the immigration debate, but is contributing richly to Long Island’s cultural and economic diversity.

The Portuguese community on Long Island is a close, tight-knit community, one that is thoroughly American, yet remains proud of its old world traditions. That pride is going through a renaissance right now thanks to a group of community members looking to share the passionate enthusiasm for celebrating that Portuguese heritage.

Gabriel Marques, Chairman of the Annual Nassau County Portugal Day Celebration, sat down with us at Bakers of All Nations, a popular Portuguese café on Jericho Turnpike in Mineola.

“We took a look at the Irish and Italian communities and the success they had with cultural events and celebrations and wanted to emulate that,” says Gabriel, who is also a Senior Economic Advisor to the Nassau County Comptroller. “We called a meeting with all the community and heritage groups and now there’s a new enthusiasm for taking the community forward.”

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Gabriel Marques with Antonio Rosado and Frank Teixeira of the Mineola Portuguese Center
That’s how the Annual Nassau County Portugal Day Celebration was born. The success of Portugal Day isn’t surprising, with Long Island home to nearly 20,000 people who identify as Portuguese, with about 7,500 in Nassau itself.

As immigrant communities often do, the Portuguese community has expanded from its original home base in Mineola to communities across Long Island.  But Mineola is still considered to be the community’s cultural center, home not just to Bakers of All Nations but to many businesses, clubs and events that maintain Mineola’s decidedly Portuguese flavor.

Bakers of All Nations is co-owned by Portuguese immigrants, João Malheiro and Paula Rego and serves as one of those places. You can find the Portuguese community out in force there and at other local cafés after Sunday Mass to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

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Paula Rego and Joao Malheiro, Owners of Bakers of All Nations
“This place brings backs memories for people,” says Paula, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1987, first working as a dishwasher. “An immigrant always misses their home. They feel at home here, they feel like they’re back in Portugal.”

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