Immigrant heritage celebrated at eighth annual Coney Island History Day

Life certainly was a day at the beach on Sunday, June 9 as the borough celebrated the eighth annual Coney Island History Day on the iconic Riegelmann Boardwalk that opened 96 years ago.

The glorious weather only added to a festive afternoon filled with free live music, including performances by musicians and dancers representing the traditional culture of countries from which people have emigrated to Coney Island.

The event was hosted by Deno John Vourderis of Deno’s Wonder Wheel Park and Charles Denson, director of the Coney Island History Project. Among those attending the event was Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus.

This year’s theme was the celebration of Coney Island’s immigrant heritage.

“For more than a century, Coney Island served as the true historic ‘melting pot’ for New York City’s immigrant population,” said Denson, author of “Coney Island: Lost and Found.

“It remains a place of great diversity, where people of small means enjoy an affordable day of free recreation on the beach and Boardwalk,” he noted. “Coney Island continues to be a destination for immigrants, the place to assimilate with people of all nationalities. It’s where they finally find true freedom and become Americans.”

Performers on the Boardwalk stage included the Brighton Ballet Theater School of Russian Ballet presenting classical ballet and Ukrainian folk dance; Master Haitian drummer Gaston “Bonga” Jean-Baptiste; Mariachi Real de Mexico de Ramon Ponce, New York’s premier mariachi; and the New York Music and Dance Organization, Bensonhurst-based Chinese dance troupe.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the iconic Parachute Jump. Originally built for the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, where it served as the Life Savers Candy Parachute Jump, the structure was moved to its current location in America’s Playground in 1941. Yet it still has a few years to go before it matches Deno’s Wonder Wheel, which turns 99 this year.

“I love Coney Island,” said Vourderis, a third generation member of the family that owns and operates the world famous Deno’s Wonder Wheel. “We are what we have always been, a place where all people come to play. And my favorite part about working here is seeing people who half a world away are at war but in Coney Island stand next to each other in line, their children smiling at each other in mutual excitement before stepping into a ride together.”

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