Albanians celebrate together in the Bronx

Dr. Gjon Bucaj, director of VATRA, gives a speech during the event. (MAHMOUD SABBAGH/The Bronx Ink)

About 480 members of the Albanian-American community in New York and New Jersey joined together in the Bronx Sunday for the annual gala dinner sponsored by VATRA, the PanAlbanian Federation of America, to celebrate Albanian independence day.

The ballroom at Maestro’s Caterers in Bronxdale was awash in the red and black of Albanian flag, and the attendees included Albania’s ambassador to America, members of the Albanian mission to the U.N., and leaders of Albanian religious groups in New York and New Jersey.

“Today we celebrate our national pride, with great joy,” said Dr. Gjon Bucaj, director of VATRA. “It is our independence day after nearly 500 years of struggle under the Ottoman occupation.”

The Republic of Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire in Nov. 28, 1912, but native Albanians were still scattered across other neighboring countries such as Montenegro, Kosovo, and Macedonia.

Bucaj, a physician, who has been VATRA’s director since 1999, added: “In 1912 we were half liberated as a nation, but today we think of Albanians as a one unity.”

“It is the greater Albanian nationality that we are celebrating today,” said Agron Gashi, an American-Albanian originally from Kosovo. “History broke our nation with imaginary borders, but we as native Albanians celebrate today all together.”

Gashi, 49, a manager at Red Bull, the energy drinks company, came from New Jersey with his family and four children. “I used to contribute to the community by participating in rallies and demonstrations during the Kosovan issue,” he said. “Today I contribute by attending these events and by teaching my children the language, the culture, and the faith.”

Children and students from the Albanian School in the Bronx recite the national anthems of both Albania and America. (MAHMOUD SABBAGH/The Bronx Ink)

Both the Albanian and American anthems were recited by a group of students from the Albanian School in the Bronx, while Albanian traditional lamb and spirits were served at tables.

Earlier at the day, both the American and the Albanian flags were hanging all across the Bronxdale Avenue and parts of Morris Park Avenue.

ALBA, an Albanian traditional band led by musician Edmond Xhanit, performed at the event on red and black theme stage as the crowd danced in groups and celebrated until midnight.