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Flushing man from India jubilant on Memorial Day

Bakul Panjwani stood before his storefront Sunday afternoon with a bouquet of flags bursting from his hand and a warm smile on his face.

“We love America. It’s my country,” said Panjwani, a Flushing resident who emigrated from India 18 years ago and now owns the Beat Value Discount Store at 18-13 College Point Blvd.

“I wasn’t born here, but they gave me more than my country could ever give me,” he said, eagerly thrusting the miniature Old Glories into the palms of anyone willing to wave them.

Panjwani was one of countless immigrants who joined neighborhood natives in a yearly showing of national pride along College Point Boulevard at the College Point Memorial Day Parade.

Not everyone gave away merchandise. Danielle Clark paid a traveling street merchant $8 for a long top-hat lined with red and white stripes, a blue swatch of stars wrapped around its brim.

Though she dons a different hat for each year’s parade, Clark said “they’re always right for the occasion.”

Her year-old son Calvin had the more economical version, an American-flag bandanna wrapped around his head.

Whether displaying their patriotism on their heads or in their hearts, the spectators who lined the streets spoke of both national and community pride as they shouted for the marchers streaming past.

“Every year I sit out here to watch the parade, because I think that’s something that we have to see,” said Josette Filippi, who immigrated to the United States from Haiti and has lived in College Point for three years. “This is my second country and I love it.”

The parade scored equally high marks from lifelong residents of College Point, many of whom watched the festivities from homes lining the parade route beyond the boulevard’s main business strip.

“It’s the only time of year I get to use my porch,” Albert Kaporch joked as he watched the parade pass by with about a dozen friends and family members on his front steps.

A number of politicians marched along the parade route and gathered for the concluding memorial ceremony, including Borough President Claire Shulman, City Councilwoman Helen Marshall (D-East Elmhurst), state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) and City Councilman Mike Abel (D-Bayside), who also served as the grand marshal.

“It’s an inspirational thing,” said longtime College Point resident Mary Daly. “It brings the community together, it helps remind us of the past so we shouldn’t forget.”

She is not likely to forget anytime soon. “There have been so many in my family who served in every war in this country, and before it was this country,” said Daly, whose ancestors arrived here in 1632. She watched the parade with her son James Daly, a lifelong College Point resident who himself had served in Vietnam.

For families lacking such a military pedigree, the parade gave the chance to teach lessons about freedoms easily taken for granted.

“These kids, they don’t know, they don’t understand,” said Pat Rivera, who has lived in College Point for 18 years and watched the parade with a group of daughters, nieces and friends. “If we don’t tell them, who will?”

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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