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Greek parade proceeds with pride

Viki Psilakis was warm under her red velvet jacket and aqua skirt with tapestry around the hem, but she wasn't complaining.

"I feel really happy," the 8-year-old said as she and other children prepared to march in Sunday's Greek Independence Day parade. Viki, marching with a group from the Hellenic Cultural Center, carried a corner of the Greek flag.

Her sister, 10-year-old Aimee, also carried a flag.

"I feel very proud because I'm representing my country and the cultural center," Aimee said.

Thousands of people turned out for the parade, which began in downtown Tarpon Springs and ended at the Sponge Docks.

Marching bands, floats and bagpipe players were among the participants.

"I feel like I'm in Greece," said Tina Bakkalapulo, who was standing in the shade of a palm tree outside St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

She was happy to see so many children participating. Youngsters like Aimee and Viki wore costumes and waved flags at cheering spectators.

"It's important that we don't lose our heritage," Bakkalapulo said. "Our children are Americans _ born here _ but they are proud of their heritage."

Sunday's celebration was to the Greek community what July 4 is to Americans, she said. The day commemorated the anniversary of Greece's declaration of independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821.

"After 400 years of slavery under the Ottoman Empire, Greece was reborn," said Kathy Theofilos, who helped with some of the parade's floats. She was sitting along the parade's ending spot near the Sponge Docks with Elaine Tagarelli.

"The patriotism that we feel for Greece," drew them to the event, Tagarelli said.

Tota Ziock, who was helping organize the group from the Hellenic Cultural Center, said the parade gives children a way to express their heritage.

"It's something to look forward to," she said. "We felt by teaching them music, parading (on) Independence Day, they're going to start thinking as proud Greeks."