June 01, 2004

Puerto Ricans Not Welcomed?!

I didn't realize that there aren't any statues depicting a single Puerto Rican in New York City. Puerto Ricans should not be the only group tring to make this a reality:

Heroes, Poets and Even a Dog, but No Puerto Ricans

From leafy paths twisting through Central Park to the small triangles gracing neighborhood vest-pocket havens, most New Yorkers can find statues that speak to their heritage and history. There are liberators and doughboys aplenty, enough likenesses of Columbus to lead several small armadas and stern-faced statesmen and long-gone writers known only to graduate students.

Some aren't even for humans. Balto the sled dog is enshrined in Central Park for leading a pack that delivered desperately needed medicine to a snowbound Alaskan town. And some honored by statues aren't all that valiant: a confused coyote who wandered into Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx a few years ago is immortalized in bronze. (Never mind the curious case of "Civic Virtue" - a fountain in Queens featuring a man trampling two temptresses - which is best left alone for now.)

Despite this variety, Felix Matos Rodriquez says he hardly notices New York City's statues. It is not that he disdains history - on the contrary, he directs the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College. He just wonders why in a city that has attracted generations of Puerto Ricans, there is not a single statue of a Puerto Rican.

It's good to see that the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College is involved. As an undergrad, I minored in Black and Puerto Rican Studies and wanted to add it as my third major. My last 1-1/2 years were frustrating and tiring and I never got up the nerve to make the necessary changes. I'm going to see about updating the fight for a statue whenever possible.

Meanwhile, more from the article:

[Mr. Matos Rodriguez] and a group of Puerto Rican civic leaders think they have found the perfect person for that large-scale tribute: Dr. Ramon Emeterio Betances, a physician, abolitionist and patriot who forged a Puerto Rican national identity in the nineteenth century in defiance of the island's Spanish rulers. They want to place a statue in Central Park, a formidable task since no historical sculptures have been erected there since 1959.

Dr. Betances spent most of his life in exile seeking freedom for Spain's colonies and the creation of a confederation of the islands in the Antilles. He spent part of his time in New York City and, though he died in Paris in 1898, he was considered enough of a luminary here that the urn with his ashes was accorded the rare honor of being lain in state at City Hall on its way back to Puerto Rico in 1920.

To the Cuban and Puerto Rican patriots of Dr. Betances' era, New York was full of intrigue and dreamers plotting the overthrow of their colonial overseers. Many lived in Chelsea and worked in pharmacies, stores and cigar factories; they printed newspapers that appealed to noble motives and sought to stir the passions of their countrymen. Some of the greatest of the era passed through New York and set up political parties, like José Martí, the poet and apostle of Cuban liberation who worked with many Puerto Ricans.

Posted by ronn at June 1, 2004 02:06 AM