As Connecticut is poised to rename a major street through a Latino neighborhood in Bridgeport to “Borinqueneers Memorial Highway’, nationally questions are raised about the lack of input they’ve had in the design of the Congressional Gold Medal they were awarded.
The state bill, which passed early this morning in the legislature’s special session and is headed to the governor’s desk, honors the segregated Puerto Rican military unit, officially the U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment that served in four wars, while enduring discrimination and other hardships from within the military itself.
Nationally, the organization that lead the grassroots effort to have the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor awarded to the Borinqueneers is criticizing the U.S. Mint, which is responsible for the medal’s production. The issue, they say, is that those who fought in those units have had little if any participation in the design of the medal.
Frank Medina, a former Bridgeport resident who is chairman of the Borinqueneers Congressional Gold Medal Alliance said, “The democracy that the Borinqueneers so nobly fought for was not at all reflected in the gold medal design process.” Medina, is a West Point Military Academy graduate and served as a captain in the Army.
Presentation of the actual medal has been pending while it was designed and engraved. A meeting, which included a teleconference, was held June 16th with the Citizen’s Coinage Advisory Committee from the U.S. Mint and Borinqueneer design liaison team, that did not represent the CGM Alliance.
Medina said that he did not know that a vote was going to be held on a design and that the conference “allowed little to no input from outside phone participants,” including himself, Borinqueneers and their families. “It was a very unfortunate teleconference,” he said.
Medina said he and the others however want the presentation made soon due to the advanced age and shrinking ranks of these veterans. Medina said he currently is drawing together comments from the veterans and the community regarding how this situation may be addressed. He is also encouraging people to contact the Pedro Pierluisi, the resident commissioner of Puerto Rico, and William Norton, U.S. Mint liaison.
The design is not “final,” Medina said, there are edits and corrections to be made, and the Secretary of the Treasury has to sign off on the design. However, Medina also emphasized that he is eager to see the medal engraved and bronze replicas be fabricated as soon as possible because these “veterans are passing off to glory very fast and they cannot wait any longer
Locally, the proposal to honor the Borinqueneers, was introduced last January by state Rep. Christopher Rosario D-28) of Bridgeport. Meeting in a special session that started Monday, the Connecticut House narrowly approved a budget implementation bill, SB 1502, crafted by the Senate that includes designation of Route 127, East Main Street, which runs through east Bridgeport, as the 65th U.S. Infantry Regiment, “the Borinqueneers” Memorial Highway.
When first introduced, the Borinqueneer highway bill focused on the section of the state Route 127 that runs south of Boston Avenue (Route 1) within Rosario’s district. However, the measure was later expanded to encompass East Main Street south to Route 130, a section that runs through the 130 District of Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, another Bridgeport Democrat.
Rosario, who is in his first term in the House, has commended the leaders of the legislature’s transportation committee, Rep. Tony Guerrera (D-29), the chairman, and Rep. Angel Arce (D-4), vice chairman, for supporting his proposal and getting it included in the budget implementation bill.
The so-called implementer passed 78-65 with 8 members absent along party lines with two Democrats joining the Republicans who unanimously opposed the measure. The bill was immediately sent to the governor for his signature. The name change would be immediately effective.
The CGM Alliance, aided by organizations such as the Hispanic American Veterans of Connecticut, spearheaded the drive to bring recognition they felt was overdue for soldiers who endured discrimination and disrespect from the military itself, to fight valiantly and with pride, particularly during the Korean War.
Acknowledgement of the contribution made by the 65th Regiment, the last segregated U.S. military unit to go into battle, achieved a major landmark when Congress passed and President Obama signed a bill awarded the nation’s highest military decoration the Medal of Honor to the Borinqueneers for exceptional gallantry and bravery in combat, most notably in the Korean War.
The 65th Regiment was established in Puerto Rico after the island was acquired by the United States in 1898. Its soldiers, mostly drawn from the cities and villages of Puerto Rico, nicknamed themselves the Boriqueneers, a term derived from the Caribbean island’s original Taino name, Borinquen, to express their pride in their homeland.
Many of the Boriqueneer veterans moved to the mainland after their service, many came to Connecticut, and like Borinqueneers everywhere, only a relatively few survive and are in their 80s and 90s.
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.”