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Puerto Ricans’ current and past successes highlighted at breakfast

By Ingrid Marie Rivera, La Prensa Correspondent

With great cheers, attendees at the Lorain International Festival Breakfast June 22, 2009 voiced a shared sentiment of pride in the Puerto Rican culture.

José Candelario, Eugenio “Gene” Rivera, Jose Feliciano and Father William Thaden.

The second keynote speaker, José Feliciano, vocalized the ethnic pride the best when he emphasized “All Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens,” and when he reiterated “soy un Jibaro.” The audience would reply with beaming faces and a roar of applause.

As this year’s spotlighted nationality went to the Puerto Ricans, this year’s Breakfast would pay tribute to the Puerto Rican culture by chronicling its past, present, and looking toward its future.

Loud cheers filled the DeLucas Place in the Park hall when U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown called U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Sonia Sotomayor humble and highly qualified.

“This could make all of you who are Puerto Rican proud and could make all us Americans proud: she has had more experience as a judge than anyone that's been nominated for the United States Supreme Court in the last 100 years,” Brown said.

The Breakfast had two keynote speakersEugenio “Gene” Rivera, a clinical social worker in Connecticut, and Feliciano, chairman of the Hispanic Roundtable. Rivera, of Ponce, spoke about the “genesis” of the Puerto Rican community in Lorain. Feliciano, of Yauco, spoke about the Puerto Ricans’ current significance and future as a growing community.

Rivera wrote about the first Puerto Ricans to settle in Lorain, published in the book The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives.

He said the first busload of Puerto Ricans arrived in Lorain in the late 1940s. Roughly 200 lived within the barracks at the Lorain National Tube and worked the steel mills.

Unable to speak English and having to adapt to a new, colder climate posed a great challenge for the early Puerto Ricans to settle in Lorain. But their problems did not end there, Rivera explained. Housing was scarce, and their social and religious needs were not being met, Rivera said.

But by 1954, the number of Puerto Ricans in Lorain would quickly grow to 2,700, and with growing numbers came great housing expansions.

Without the approval of Lorain City Council, the early Puerto Ricans began to construct houses extending multiple streets in an area they called “El Campito.”

The Puerto Rican and city leaders soon resolved their legal disputes, and the housing district grew, Rivera said. La Capilla del Sagrado Corazon opened soon after, serving their religious needs.

Rivera said places like the Puerto Rican Home and other organizations brought national media attention and welcomed important political and athletic figures.

“Our people brought, most importantly, a culture and a history,” Rivera said. The early Puerto Ricans brought a new style of music when constructing their cuatros made of different kinds of woods, Rivera said.

PRCC chair Antonio Barrios,2008-2009 Queen Natalie Rodriquez, Mayor Anthony Krasienko and LIA president Terri Soto.

“That is the genesis of our community. We have actually done wonderful things with very little resources,” Rivera said “We honor our first generation...they laid the foundation for all of us to be here,” Rivera said.

Feliciano followed by emphasizing how the current political status of Puerto Rico as a commonwealth, or its partnership with the United States greatly affects and shapes Puerto Ricans. He focused his speech on trying to define who Puerto Ricans are and what they have accomplished.

“Most Puerto Ricans know this but I do this for our good friends, los Americanos,” Feliciano said. “Let me state this loudly and clear that all Puerto Ricans are (U.S.) citizens,” he said, as the crowd cheered.

Feliciano continued “U.S. citizenship is a precious asset to us, however it's something for which we Puerto Ricans have paid a very high price,” he said, referring to the many Puerto Rican military men and women who have died serving in combat.

Feliciano proudly described the Puerto Rican community as family-oriented, religious, and having a rich culture. He added their political and economic power as a community is growing as Latinos are the largest, and fastest growing minority in the U.S.

“It's a joy to be Puerto Rican,” Feliciano said, “Be assured that we love our country, both of them, and that’s a paradox at least,” Feliciano said.

José Candelario, Lorain County Board of Elections director and of Puerto Rican descent, left the Breakfast event satisfied.

“The speakers had a good connection between where we come from as a community and where we are today,” Candelario, who hosted the event, said “What’s exciting is for tomorrow. We still get to write that,” he said.






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