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From Long Island Wins: August 20, 2010

Immigration’s Secret Benefit: Zeppoles

There’s a reason we all love summertime on Long Island.

Beach trips, barbeques—we’ve picked a fantastic place to live and to spend time with family and friends.

But there are a lot of places with sand and sun. Summer on Long Island is also marked by a whole lot of really great culture – including festivals across the county that celebrate the rich influence that immigrants have had on our community.

As anyone who grew up on pasta fagioli and homemade “gravy” knows, one of the more notable festivals in Nassau County just passed this Sunday.

From August 12-15, the Dell’ Assunta Feast of the Assumption celebrated its 100th anniversary at St. Brigid’s Church in Westbury with Italian-Neapolitan music, fireworks, and games for kids, as well as a diet-destroying smorgasbord of lasagna, rigatoni, and pizza. And, of course, my personal summer favorite – the sugar and dairy treat known as the zeppole.

Italians were one of Long Island’s emerging immigrant groups a century ago, and some Italian immigrants settled near St. Brigid’s, in the New Cassel area. Many of those immigrants worked as landscapers on the wealthy estates of the North Shore and Old Westbury. Along with their economic power, they brought their traditions with them to Long Island, including the Feast of the Assumption.

But our newer traditions are a lot of fun, too.

In early August, the Salvadoran Day Festival came to Hempstead, bringing everything from pupusas – thick corn tortillas typically stuffed with cheese or meat – to Salvadoran-American hip hop.

One guesses that there were some landscapers attending that event, too, though surely more than a few attendees were among the thousands of Latino immigrants who have started businesses and are helping Long Island survive in this economy. The same goes for the Long Island Caribbean American International Festival, a family-oriented party in Westbury’s Eisenhower Park that filled the air with calypso and steel drums a few days ago.

So, next time you hear yet another politically-charged attack on immigrants, who, regardless of their legal status, come to Long Island from around the world to work hard and provide for their families, you can remind yourself that immigrants are making Long Island richer. Or you can simply remember what it’s like to listen to a Colombian cumbia band, nosh on baklava, or take in a cricket match. Immigrants aren’t just making Long Island better off. They’re making it better.

To take full advantage of Long Island’s immigrant culture, visit LongIslandCultureGuide.com, where you’ll find articles on immigrant culture in the area, along with an extensive event calendar.

Hurry – you don’t want the stromboli to get cold.

Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the campaign director of Long Island Wins, a campaign promoting policy solutions to local immigration issues. Visit their website at www.LongIslandWins.com