Connecticut is well on its way to creating a special place to honor the service and sacrifices of the 65th Infantry Regiment, the Borinqueneers, especially with the leaders of the “host city” for the long-awaited monument park, New Britain, agreeing to the importance of having input in the final stages from Latinos who have been spearheading this project for several years.
For a while, the issue of how to accommodate Latino participation in an endeavor which now falls under local government control, posed a stumbling block that could delay the timely completion of a monument eagerly awaited by the state’s Latino community and by the surviving Borinqueneer veterans from the Korean War.
However, recent discussions between Rep. Robert Sanchez, a primary mover in this project, and Mayor Erin Stewart are expected to get the process moving forward again in September. The meeting was very “productive,” Sanchez said. “She agrees for the need to have the stakeholders participate.” he said.
The city already has a site for the park and state funding has been allocated for the monument, but an impediment to having full support for the project at City Hall had emerged due to “miscommunication,” according to Rep. Sanchez and Alderman Emmanuel Sanchez. Both are active in the effort to recognize the regiment, which was comprised almost exclusively of men from Puerto Rico and was the U.S. military’s last segregated combat unit.
Essentially, some members of Stewart’s administration had expressed concern that a resolution to advise the city commissions who would carry out the project would create an “extra layer of government.” The city’s three Latino alderman sponsored this resolution, which Alderman Sanchez pulled at the last minute from the Common Council’s August 11 agenda at the request of his uncle, Rep. Sanchez, who wanted to have further discussions with the mayor.
Alderman Sanchez issued a message via Facebook that stated, “Due to some miscommunications and time constraints, we were not able to address all concerns.” He added, “In an effort to have unanimous support and community involvement (both locally and statewide), we will have to delay the next step in this important project.”
Stewart also was eager to sit down with Rep. Sanchez to make sure that proper procedures are followed, said Jodi Latina, a spokesperson for the mayor’s office the day after the resolutions were pulled. “The mayor is fully supportive of the project,” she said.
Sanchez and Stewart met Aug. 18 and the discussions “went very well,” according to the state legislator, and should lead to resolving the issue of Latino participation in the city’s efforts to make the long-awaited memorial park a reality, as well as help avoid future miscommunications.
Sanchez said he is now looking forward to reading the paragraph the mayor said she would add to the stalled resolution that would be included in the Common Council’s agenda for September. The addition would essentially indicate that people will be added to the key commissions, veterans and parks and recreation. “If we have to tweak the paragraph, that is OK,” Sanchez said.
“We understand the processes the city has to go through,” Sanchez said, “but we want to have the right people, those who have been working on this for several years, provide information and work with the commissions.”
Alderman Sanchez said that a hallmark of the Borinqueneers project had been its bipartisan support. He noted that his co-sponsors for the ad hoc committee resolution are Republican Alderman Willie Pabon and Kristian Rosado, an “unaffiliated” alderman who was elected a Republican.
Moreover, before the resolutions were placed on the agenda, according to Alderman Sanchez, there was a meeting among himself, Pabon, Rosado, Rep. Sanchez and Carmelo Rodriquez, a Republican leader who is chairman of the local Latino Coalition who also has worked on the Borinqueneer project for several years.
Rep. Sanchez said recently he will meet shortly with his nephew and the two other Latino aldermen, Willie Pabon and Kristian Rosado, to update them on the situation and to tell them that the proposed resolution has his approval.
Alderman Sanchez expressed his frustration with the delay on the Borinqueneers monument. “We all agreed to something and in my eyes this is not political.” He added, “I don’t understand why it came to this.”
The answer from City Hall, basically came in a question. “Why set up another committee when we already have the veterans and parks commissions?” Latina asked.
Rep. Sanchez said the ad hoc committee would not overstep the work of the parks and veterans commissions, but would act in an advisory role and help connect the city with the project stakeholders, which includes veterans and families of the Borinqueneers, many of whom live across the state. The focus should be, he said, not that a layer of bureaucracy might be added, but rather that we are being responsible to the surviving Borinqueneers and their families.
“I need to know as a Latino that we are making the most sound decisions,” the alderman said, noting that while the monument park is located in New Britain it represents statewide recognition of the Borinqueneers.
Rep. Sanchez said that in his application for state funds, he had stated that a committee of Latinos would “work along with the project.”
The state representative also said he wanted to make sure that the people who have been working on the monument park project for the past few years are included, such as Aldermen Pabon and Sanchez, who are knowledgeable about the project.
The proposed ad hoc committee, Alderman Sanchez said, would include the mayor, the city’s public works director, the three Hispanic members of the council and two members of the public appointed by the mayor.
The monument park in New Britain would be the only one in Connecticut devoted to the Borinqueneers and the largest in New England. Alderman Sanchez said he expect the park would draw people from throughout the state and even beyond.
The 65th Regiment was an outgrowth of a Puerto Rican infantry unit established in 1901. The Borinqueneers, a nickname derived from the Taino name for the island, Borinquen, served in World War I, World War II and the Korean War. Last year, the Borinqueneers were awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor as the result of a grassroots campaign.
Initially, a 65th Regiment Historical Society, whose members includes Latinos from New Britain, Waterbury, Meriden and other Connecticut communities, lead the monument project. Last year, the baton was passed to the Latino Coalition, but more recently, with the focus on obtaining state funds, Rep. Sanchez has been the primary mover both locally and at the state capitol.
This is a continuing role for Sanchez. In 2013, the New Britain legislator lead the push for the state to give the city a parcel of land for the park near Farmington Avenue at the intersection of Washington and Beaver streets.
With the site turned over to New Britain, a groundbreaking took place the next spring. In addition, a sign was posted indicating that a monument park was in the works.
Several fundraisers were held during the past few years, but it was clear that state assistance was needed to complete the project.
Sanchez worked with the administration of Governor Dannel Malloy and the bonding commission to get a grant approved in July.
The allocation of these funds generated some controversy at the time with some Republican leaders in the Legislature questioning the wisdom of spending money on monuments when the state was in the midst of a financial crisis.
Rep. Sanchez explained that one of his primary motivations for wanting to move expeditiously on the monument plan is the ongoing interests of veterans throughout the state, people like Celestino Cordova, a Borinqueneer who fought in Korea more than 60 years ago and now lives in New Haven.
Aware that Cordova and the state’s other surviving veterans of the 65th Infantry Regiment are getting way up in age, Rep. Sanchez said, “We don’t want to wait too long.”