Club Taino Puertorriqueño celebrates Constitution Day
By Kevin Milliken, La Prensa Correspondent
Latinos of Puerto Rican descent gathered for a picnic Sat., July 27, 2013 to celebrate Constitution Day, which commemorates the island Commonwealth’s relationship with the United States, first established in 1952.
The public was invited to bring lawn chairs and a covered dish to share at Swan Creek Metropark’s Yager Center for the 17th annual event. Club Taino Puertorriqueño hosts the picnic each year. The first picnic was held at Pearson Metropark; however, each one since has been hosted at Swan Creek.
“We have identified anywhere from 75 to 100 families (of Puerto Rican descent) in the Toledo metro area, which equates to I would say 300 people,” said María González, Club Taino president. “But there’s a huge population in Lorain and Cleveland and even Defiance.”
Constitution Day is officially commemorated on July25, the day Puerto Rico adopted its new constitution and officially became a U.S. commonwealth. Sometimes referred to as Commonwealth Day, July 25 is a legal holiday throughout the island and is celebrated with parades, speeches, fireworks, and parties.
Puerto Rico became a commonwealth, rather than an independent republic or a state, because an election in 1948 failed to produce a majority vote in favor of either of these alternatives. Ironically, a similar debate currently has taken place for decades, as an organized effort is underway to either establish Puerto Rico as an independent nation, the 51st state, or keep the status quo as a commonwealth.
“It’s not easy for Puerto Ricans to decide. They want to keep their autonomy, keep the language, the culture alive,” explained Ms. González. “At the same time, we want to be under the umbrella of Big Brother. So far, they have not come up with enough of a consensus to decide. That’s for the Puerto Ricans on the island to decide.”
The relationship between Puerto Rico and the U.S. is of a voluntary nature. Under the commonwealth arrangement, islanders elect a governor and a legislature as well as a resident commissioner who is sent (with a voice but not a vote) to the U.S. Congress. The relationship remains permanent for as long as both parties agree to it, but it can be changed at any time by mutual consent.
July 25 also marks the date in 1898 when U.S. troops invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War, known previously as Occupation Day. U.S. military forces landed that day in an area of the municipality of Yauco that, years later, would become the separate city of Guánica.
More than 100 people turned out for the picnic, despite a rainy Saturday afternoon. Volunteers from the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center provided crafts and games for the children. Another information table was set up with books and toy giveaways, hoping to draw families to sign up their pre-school age children for Toledo Head Start.
Ms. González explained that the traditional food of Puerto Rico is always a big draw, even for other ethnicities who know about the annual event. A long line snaked out the door for rice and beans, desserts, and pork roasted for ten-plus hours over an open fire.
Ms. González also explained that Club Taino Puertorriqueño stands for “the good people of Puerto Rico,” who trace their roots back to the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean areas in islands such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.
“We are a very friendly people,” she said with a smile. “What’s not to love? They love the food and our friendship, and we are happy to share who we are and what we are all about.”
For Gary Johnson, the picnic represented a chance to share his roots with his teenage daughter, as he filled out a membership application for Club Taino.
“I want her to understand the Puerto Rican culture. I think it’s important for us to support the Puerto Rican community, as well as the Hispanic community,” he said. “Since my great grandmother was Puerto Rican, I want to put some time in supporting what our community is doing and learn about the culture.”
Johnson explained that he grew up on the west side of Cleveland, where a suburban lifestyle did not lend itself to learning about his culture and heritage. He described himself as “Americanized” as a youth, admitting that as a 59-year old, he’s still catching up on learning about the music, food, and culture of his ancestry.