Puerto Rican Heroes
By Manuel Hernandez-Carmona copyright
For the first time since Puerto Rico’s own, Zuleyka Rivera,
won the Miss Universe pageant of 2006, Puerto Ricans zealously
celebrated the home coming of a heroe. With a bit less than
six feet, Jose Juan Barea, became a giant in the land of the
“Goliaths” of the NBA. Even Boricuas who cheered for the trio
of superstars from South Beach welcomed the Mayaguez native
as he made his entrance into the Isla Verde airport. No one
can deny Barea’s place in history, but there is a dichotomy
about who is and who is not a heroe in Puerto Rico.
As a Puerto Rican born in the legendary town of Sleepy Hollow,
New York during the heroic years of the 1960’s, I woke up
every day to the tales and stories of American heroes. As
turbulent as they were, the 1960’s were a time of heroes from
all walks of life in America. The civil rights movement was
headed by a Southern Baptist preacher who took the United
States by storm with a message of peace and non-violence.
Although I was a merely a child, there was no way you could
live a day without hearing about the assassinated President.
In sports, the amazing Mets had suprisingly won the World
Series in 1969. These are just a few of the individual and
collective heroes that I heard about while growing up in America.
All that changed when my parents moved to their homeland,
Puerto Rico, when I was eleven years old in 1974. There was
hardly any stories or lessons about a Puerto Rican heroe in
school. They did mention a few by the names of Jose de Diego,
Ramon Emeterio Betances, Luis Muñoz Marin and a few others,
but their accomplishments were carefully carved without adding
the heroic connotations of a national heroe. It was only when
I became a freshman in Puerto Rico’s first academic institution
that I took it into my own hands to learn more about the people
that shaped, influenced and marked Puerto Rican history. Because
of Puerto Rico’s unique political relationship with the United
States, the Puerto Rican governments of the 20th and 21st
century have been very low key, pun intended, when it comes
to including a curriculum in the public school system about
Puerto Rican heroes.
It is only when a Puerto Rican in entertainment and sports
reaches a climatic national and even international point that
they celebrate and claim a place for him/her in Puerto Rican
history. The Puerto Rican Diaspora has more than a few “Davids”
in Hollywood, education and U.S. Congress, but Island counterparts
quietly question their heritage and silently deny them a place
in Puerto Rican history.The world famous Puerto Rican receiving
the President on June 14th was Marc Anthony, but there were
Islanders that were appalled by his presence at the burning
Heroes awaken pride and define national identity. Because
there is very little, if any, celebration concerning Puerto
Rican heroes; pride and identity are only experienced publicly
when a basketball player, boxer and/or a beautiful Puerto
Rican woman is chosen as a Ms. Universe. There are so many
heroes in the backyard of our towns and barrios in Puerto
Rico. When will the media take a minute or two to examine
and explore the impact of the paintings of Jose Campeche?
Europeans probably know more about him than we do.
Why do we have to wait until a Puerto Rican wins a sports
championship to display the Puerto Rican flag? How about building
a monument to honor the only person in history that has won
the Oscar, Emmy, Tony and Grammy? Her name is Rita Moreno.
It is ironic that she is honored more outside of The Island
than her beloved Puerto Rico. Let’s enjoy the moment, and
cheer Jose Juan Barea. Let’s bury our petty political indifference
and dare to teach about Puerto Rican heroes in schools. Puerto
Rican politics has perpetuated a baffling attitude in relation
to heroes, but it may take people like you and me to remind
our politicians that we are willing to think differently about
who is and who is not a Puerto Rican heroe.