Recognition for the contributions and sacrifices made by the Puerto Rican soldiers of U.S. Army’s 65th infantry, the famed Borinqueneers, in three wars continues to advance in Connecticut with an effort to establish a memorial park in New Britain under way and, more recently, with legislation introduced to name in their honor a stretch of East Main Street in the Latino section of Bridgeport.
While work on the New Britain project is moving forward, primarily at this point on the organizational and planning levels, the street renaming proposal, introduced in January by Rep. Christopher Rosario (D-128) of Bridgeport, has been gaining significant support both at the state level and from a national organization that spearheaded the successful drive to have a Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to the 65th Regiment.
Rosario’s bill is being considered with other street name requests, according to Rep. Angel Arce (D-4), the committee’s vice chairman. “I am in support of Rep. Rosario’s bill to recognize the service, sacrifice and magnitude of what the Borinqueneers did as they fought our wars,” said Arce last week. The Hartford legislator added, “It would be a great accomplishment if we can make this happen.”
Rosario, whose district includes the East Side neighborhood which contains the area that would be affected, said recently, “It is up to us, the current generation, to not forget what past generations of our own people have done.”
The 65th Regiment was organized in Puerto Rico after the island was acquired by the United States in 1898. The regiment, which was the military’s last segregated unit in combat, was active during the two world wars, gaining distinction during combat in the Korean War when it had to endure hardship and often a numerically superior enemy. Despite the discrimination they endured, they nicknamed themselves the Borinqnueneers based on the original name of Puerto Rico – Borinquen.
In New Britain, an organization was set up last year to create the first memorial park in the U.S. dedicated to the Borinqueneers. The National 65th Regiment Historical Society acquired a parcel of land at the intersection of Beaver and Washington streets near Farmington Avenue in that city. The memorial project is on track said Dan Garcia, who helped initiate this campaign and is its executive director. Garcia said, ” We are excited to have formed an excellent board of directors from across the state, and we are basically waiting for a non-profit 501(c)3 designation from the government so we can begin raising funds for the park,” which Garcia and others say will also be an educational focal point for scores of young Puerto Ricans and non-Latinos.
In 2013, the first Veteran’s Day ceremony took place at the site and last May a ground-breaking ceremony and flower planting took place. The group also has placed a sign indicating that this is the future site of the 65th Infantry Regiment memorial park. Eventually, the group hopes to erect a monument in the park, Garcia said, the board is working on the logistics and costs.
In both New Britain and Bridgeport, interest in honoring the Borinqueneers was heightened last year when the unit received the Congressional Medal of Honor, an award already accorded to similar units such as the Tuskegee Airman and the Native American Code Talkers.
Rosario said that as he went door to door campaigning last summer, the message he heard from some residents of Bridgeport’s largely Latino East Side essentially came down to “they are honoring everybody else in Connecticut, but never honoring our people.”
Rosario said he approached the mayor and council members from eastern Bridgeport about renaming part of East Main Street for the Borinqueneers and they were behind this “110 percent.”
However, since East Main Street is technically a state road, the name changing campaign had to go through the legislative process at the Capitol. One of the first actions Rosario took upon taking office in January was to sponsor a bill, HB 6336, for the renaming.
His proposal, whose co-sponsors include Rep. Ezequiel Santiago (D-130) of Bridgeport, was assigned to the Transportation Committee and was the subject of a hearing in February, at which those providing support included Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch and Milta Feliciano, the council person in whose district the street designated for renaming is situated.
Finch said this change would “honor our Puerto Rican community as a whole.”
Feliciano, who also is the city’s Director of Veterans Affairs, said, “There are only a few (Borinqueneers) left, so let’s honor the story of these forgotten soldiers while they are still with us.”
The state’s Latin and Puerto Rican Affairs Commission also backed the renaming as “a positive gesture for the community,” said Werner Oyanadel, executive director. “Connecticut should recognize the accomplishments of Latinos,” he said.
Additional support came from Orlando, Fla., in the form of a letter put into testimony at the public hearing from Frank Medina, who organized and lead the successful national campaign to obtain a Congressional Gold Medal for the 65th Regiment.
Medina, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in the Bridgeport neighborhood where the street would be renamed, said as a youth “he envisioned making a meaningful difference in the East Side of Bridgeport.
A former U.S. Army captain, Medina said last week that he was “keenly aware” of both the New Britain and Bridgeport projects, but particularly of the latter and has been corresponding with Rosario. He said the legislator can definitely count on his support and that he looks forward to attending the street renaming ceremony.
Medina said he would like to see the entire length of East Main Street named, not just the portion from Boston Avenue and Artic Street which lies in Rosario’s district.
Rosario said that getting the whole street renamed was “something he has been thinking to do” and that working with Santiago, whose district also includes part of East Main, this remains a possibility for the future.
For now, he said, his focus is on the section that runs through the “heart of the Puerto Rican/Latino community.” Rosario said that as an “East Side guy” he is “prideful and confident this will get done.”
Update: 3/9/15: 12:58 pm – Rosario said Monday that Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Guerrera (D-29) said he is on board with the street renaming bill.