“I remember those days of the Puerto Rican parade, ‘la parada,’ when we would all get together. I marched in the parade and we had over 25,000 people at the green in New Haven. It was simply telling folks that we’re here — that we are here to stay …”
In his short address at the first annual Puerto Ricans United, Inc., (PRU) Award Dinner and Gala, held at Amarante’s Sea Cliff, former Board of Alders President and current mayoral Chief of Staff Tomas Reyes Jr. lauded the “very capable” organizers of PRU who are working to restore the celebration of cultural pride that had been on hiatus for the better part of a decade. Rather than a parade, the group will host a festival on the Green this weekend.
In response to strong community demand for a new festival, PRU co-founder and chair Joseph Rodriguez (and current deputy state director for the Office of U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal) said a call on social media some 13 months ago to organize was a litmus test gauging interest. “If you are willing to join me on this journey, I’ll do it, because I’m not going to do it by myself,” Rodriguez remembered saying. The first meeting, held at The Greek Olive, brought out 15 people eager to organize and help launch the new, not-for-profit, 501(c)(3) cultural organization.
Rodriguez said that the previous New Haven Puerto Rican chapter of Puerto Rican Parade organizers had ended as a result of attrition and members. Since the founding of Puerto Ricans United, Inc., the organization, partnering with other Latino organizations, has sponsored a number of cultural events leading up to last Thursday’s gala and award ceremony. Rodriguez said the organization hopes to grow its scope and mission to help provide after school cultural programs for youth.
Sen. Blumenthal attended the gala, discussing his work on legislation recognizing Los Boriqueneers with a U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor bestowed by Congress. Boriqueneers were members of the 65th (Puerto Rican) infantry regiment who fought in World War l, World War ll, and in the Korean War, where they received more than 2,700 Purple Hearts and a plethora of other medals for distinguished service.“This is just the beginning” noted Blumenthal, “We need much more supportive aid for Puerto Rico because for too long there has been, in effect, discrimination against the island in the tax code, in the Medicaid-Medicare formulas, in the earned income tax credit, in all kinds of ways. We need to do better, do more, and be more fair to Puerto Rico,” he said.
The senator also took a moment to recognize a gala attendee, Army National Guard Sergeant First Class Andres Quintero, a Colombian-born immigrant who has had a long career of military service including an 18-month tour in Afghanistan. “Anyone who wants to build walls to keep out Andres Quintero better think twice about building walls to keep out people that will contribute and give back to this country and make our country the greatest, strongest nation in the history of our world.”
Master of Ceremonies Marilyn Alverio — founder of Latinas & Power Symposium and senior marketing manager for Mass Mutual’s Valoralife digital insurance platform — spoke passionately about her pride of culture. “Yo soy Borriqua [I am Puerto Rican]. That is at the core of my personality, my character. Wherever I go, whatever I do, my culture goes with me… being Latino is in,” she said to the agreeable audience.
Three Puerto Ricans United awards were presented, including a community service award to Capt. Felipe Cordero, a 20-year veteran of the New Haven Fire Department who is acting battalion chief and one of the founding members of the New Haven Hispanic Firefighters Association. The organization provides four annual scholarships to New Haven high school students and sponsors a Three Kings Day celebration in a designated school each year.
An arts & culture award was presented to Rafael Ramos, deputy director of code enforcement for the Livable City Initiative bureau and founder and director of the Fair Haven-based Bregamos Community Theater. Ramos has been the winner of numerous community service awards and official city citations for his many active roles in building community.
A community non-profit award was presented to Luis and Marilyn Rosa of Boxing in Faith Gym Inc., an athletic center on Grand Avenue working to establish an amateur boxing program for New Haven area youth up to age 18. The organization encourages participants to “develop self-esteem, discipline, coping skills, and positive social values through athletic competition.”
This Thursday, at 12:30 p.m., PRU will host a flag-raising ceremony on the New Haven Green, part of the weekend kick-off for Fiestas Patronales de New Haven, honoring the city of San Juan. The festival will be held on the Green Saturday, Aug. 13, from 1-9 p.m. It will feature food trucks, family activities, and live music with up to six bands performing. Headlining will be the renowned band Plena Libre de Puerto Rico, coming from the island to perform at the festival.
“While this is a Puerto Rican festival, and we are happy to bring it back, this is a festival that is at the core of American values in representing diversity,” said Rodriguez.
Donations in support of the festival and programs may be sent to Puerto Ricans United, Inc., 466 Middletown Ave., # 19, New Haven, CT 06513.