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9th annual Mexican celebration takes place in “Little Italy”

Belmont to celebrate Cinco de Mayo

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It may be the heart of the borough’s – and the city’s – Little Italy. But the neighborhood surrounding the Arthur Avenue restaurants and shops bears more resemblance to Mexico City these days.

With an influx of new residents from Mexico and other Latin American countries over the past decade or more, Belmont has rapidly assumed a new identity, and with it a new annual celebration.

For the past eight years, “Little Italy” has played host to a major Cinco de Mayo celebration.

This year’s ninth annual one, hosted by El Grupo Unidos de Belmont, will be just two blocks from Arthur Avenue, from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday May 3 on Crescent Avenue between 187th street and Belmont Avenue.

Last year’s event drew several thousand people, Mexican and otherwise, said event organizer Lucia Perea. The event first started on a quarter of a block, she noted, but has now grown to fill up the whole block, and is looking to keep expanding as it reaches its 10th anniversary next year.

“We want to make it bigger for the people,” she said.

Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla in 1862 during the French occupation.

While the event is important to many Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans, it is of particular importance to those who come from the state of Puebla.

Perea, whose family is from Puebla, said there is a significant community of Mexicans from Puebla in the Belmont area.

She said that over the years, the historically Italian neighborhood has slowly embraced the newer ethnic group.

“I grew up in Belmont,” said Perea. “I’ve seen how people have accepted us.”

Ivine Galarza, district manager of Community Board 6, said that Italians started moving out of Belmont several decades ago and were replaced by other ethnic groups, primarily Mexican and also Albanian families, who now own business along with working in the old Italian institutions.

“They make a good contribution to our community,” said Galarza.

According to NYC Census FactFinder, about 16 percent of Belmont residents identified themselves as Mexican on the 2010 census. Some 58 percent of residents identified themselves as Hispanic, with those of Mexican descent making up more than a quarter of that population. Four thousand-plus Mexican residents live in Belmont, a community of 27,000.

Galarza said this population is the reason the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration has been so successful.

The free event, which will feature a D.J., Mariachi Band, traditional dancing, and vendors, is sponsored by C-Town, along with Krasdale Foods and MetroPlus.

Damian Perez, whose father Jose own’s C-Town, said that although his family isn’t of Mexican descent, they’ve been involved in the Belmont Cinco de Mayo celebration from the start.

“We are really tied to that community,” he said. “That’s our way of giving back.”

At the celebration, El Grupo Unidos will present two $500 college scholarships to minority Belmont or Tremont residents who demonstrate financial need

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at jwilliams@cnglocal.com.
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