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Three Kings arrive in New London for toy giveaway

New London — Santa might still be the most popular gift-giving holiday figure for children during Christmas in the United States, but Latinos in this city have not forgotten their roots.

The Dominican Association of New London handed out hundreds of donated toys in a drive-thru giveaway on Sunday as part of the celebration of Three Kings Day, a holiday popular in Puerto Rico and many Latin American countries. The holiday, which falls on Jan. 6, celebrates the day in Christian religion when the three wise men brought gifts to the baby Jesus. Children received gifts from the three wise men.

“In Spanish-speaking countries, this is bigger than Christmas. We are trying to bring that to the United States,” said Jose Mateo, a member of the Dominican Association.

Mateo joined Miguel Afanador and Mayor Michael Passero to dress up as the three kings, waving to families as they passed through the parking lot of the organization’s 60 Jay St. headquarters. Cars pulled in, greetings were exchanged and families were handed age-appropriate toys and N95 masks.

The Dominican Association partnered with Griffin Health, Ledge Light Health District and the state Department of Public Health to sponsor a vaccination clinic. Dozens of people, children and adults, waited in line for first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and in some cases a booster shot. City Council President Efrain Dominguez called it a “bright idea” for the nonprofit organization to couple the two events.

One 10-year-old, Angelina, stood with her mother in line on Sunday for her first dose of the vaccine, a decision her mother said she made for her safety because of the rising COVID-19 numbers in the schools.

Dominguez, joined at the toy giveaway by fellow Councilor Jocelyn Rosario, said when he was a young child living in Puerto Rico, he filled shoe boxes with hay for the wise men’s camels and slid them under his bed. When he awoke in the morning the boxes contained presents.

Yamilla Mateo, a member of the Dominican Association of New London, said the tradition of celebrating Three Kings Day remains strong, especially among residents from Caribbean countries. For many immigrants with children born in the United States like herself, she said the celebration is “a chance for us to get back to our traditional roots.”

The annual event has been growing in popularity in New London through the years as the Spanish-speaking population grows.

Census numbers show the Hispanic population in New London grew by 19% between 2010 and 2020 with an estimated 9,326 people in the city identifying as Hispanic. The Hispanic population in New London County grew grew by 33% over the past 10 years.

Beatriz German, who was born in Mexico, said Three Kings Day was the traditional holiday for her family and something she’s passed on to her children. Her daughters, Amayra, 8, and Alyssa, 2, accompanied her to Sunday’s event.

Organizers of Sunday’s event promise an even larger giveaway next year.

g.smith@theday.com

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