Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator and star of Broadway’s “Hamilton,” and Carmen Yulín Cruz, the spirited mayor of San Juan, will contribute their celebrity to Sunday’s Unity March for Puerto Rico in Washington, D.C., but Connecticut’s Puerto Ricans also will be playing major roles.
Several hundred marchers from the Constitution State plan to join thousands of their fellow Boricua from at least 13 other states on the National Mall in an effort to convince the nation’s leaders to lift the Jones Act shipping regulations and other laws, which the event’s organizers state “have been systematically oppressive and crippling to the people and the socio-economic growth and sustainability” of Puerto Rico.
“We want to make it clear that there are a lot of Puerto Ricans in the United States who want their island treated fairly,” said Jason Ortiz, president of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda, a statewide advocacy group, and one of three people with state connections on the march’s organizing committee.
Wildaliz Bermudez, the Working Families Party’s minority leader on the Hartford City Council, has been chosen to speak Sunday along with Miranda, Mayor Cruz, U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and other prominent Puerto Rican leaders. She is also a member of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda, a statewide advocacy group.
Miranda also has a Connecticut connection in that he is an alumnus of Wesleyan University. The New York City native also is working with the Hispanic Federation, a national Latino advocacy organization.
The Federation’s Connecticut office, under the direction of Ingrid Alvarez, is paying for a bus to Washington from the Hartford area. Yanil Teron, executive director of the Center for Latino Progress, is bus captain.
Ortiz, who was born in New London to Puerto Rican parents from Añasco and Caguas, is joined on the Unity March’s organizing committee by Ana Valentin-Jackson, a Hartford activist who is the march’s national manager of operations, and Eva-Marie Quinones, a doctorate candidate at Yale University, who is head of national youth engagement.
In Connecticut, the people coordinating participation Sunday include Ortiz, Quinones, Valentin-Jackson along with Antonio Torres, named state leader by the national committee, Milly Guzman, who is the bus captain for the Hartford contingent, and Tiana Ocasio, the membership chair of the CT Hispanic Democratic Caucus.
Ortiz, under the banner of the National Puerto Rican Agenda, also will play a role in Saturday’s national Diaspora Summit sponsored by Hunter College’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies. He said that the scheduling of this “full day of strategizing” by an array of advocacy groups on the same weekend as the Unity March was a fortunate coincidence.
On Saturday, he said, “we will decide what we want to ask and on Sunday we will show why we should get it.”
Ortiz said, “There is no illusion how easy it will be to “move Congress to act” on the issues that are vital to Puerto Rico, adding, “We have needed to come to come together, to respond on a national level and to network.”
The United March is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. in front of the Capitol Building with an opening ceremony and then proceed to the Lincoln Memorial with keynote addresses that will serve as “a call to action to the leaders of the nation.”
This “bill of grievances,” Ortiz said, is likely to resemble the five demands set down recently by the Hispanic Federation, which focus on “economic recovery and transparency and accountability in the delivery of aid to the hurricane ravaged commonwealth.”
The Federation’s demands are:
- That Puerto Ricans receive the same treatment as their fellow Americans.
- Rebuilding a stronger, safer, more sustainable infrastructure.
- Insuring that resources are delivered where they are needed most.
- Elimination of the Jones Act shipping strictures which cause disproportionately high prices on goods in Puerto Rico,
- Cancellation of Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt which is crippling Puerto Rico’s recovery.
The end of the Jones Act is a primary objective for James Flores, a longtime Puerto Rican activist in Willimantic, plans to be part of a ten-person contingent from that community who will travel by van to Washington.
Flores, who recently retired from the Town Council, said the Jones Act creates an extra price to products shipped to the island because foreign shippers have to go to Florida to have their goods transferred to an American ship,
Emilio Estrella, a member of the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda board, will be attending the march with his parents who have temporarily relocated from Puerto Rico to Connecticut.
Estrella said the Trump Administration’s response to the island’s crisis “has been inadequate, to put it mildly.” As a personal note, he added, “My parents were lucky to have us to take them in for a couple of months, but the rest of my family and friends are still powerless, literally as well as figuratively.”