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Puerto Rican Professional Association of South Florida
Quietly Yet Deservedly Proud
By Raúl Duany
While Puerto Ricans have distinguished themselves over the years and throughout the world, recent unprecedented events have highlighted the capability, dedication and great contributions the humble people of this small 110-by-35 mile Island have offered the world. Even with seven months left in the year, 2001 could already be proclaimed: "The year of Puerto Rico".
In a society stamped with the stereotyped Latino machismo, nearly half of Puerto Ricos 1.2 million registered voters elected their first woman governor to lead them into the new millennium and kicked off the year with the swear-in ceremony for Governor Sila M. Calderón.
In music and film, Puerto Ricans were recently honored in the United States as Olga Tañón, the 1998 Queen of Calle Ochos festival was awarded a Grammy, and Benicio Del Toro later received an Oscar for his role in Traffic. Also this year, Puerto Rican boxing heavyweight John Ruiz defeated heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield, becoming the first Hispanic to win a Heavyweight boxing belt. Finally, or so we thought, earlier last month, Pope John Paul the Second, beatified Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, only the second Hispanic and first Puerto Rican beatified to sainthood.
Recently Puerto Ricos visibility catapulted to a climax, as the Miss Universe Pageant was broadcast from the Island to the world, and Miss Puerto Ricos Denise Quiñones was crowned Miss Universe 2001. The following day, an undefeated Félix "Tito" Trinidad crushed middleweight champ William Joppy, and Tito became the first former welterweight champion to win a middleweight title since Roberto "Mano de Piedra" Duran did it in 1989.
It has indeed been a great year for Puerto Ricans, but it must also be noted that the success and contributions of Puerto Ricans run deep throughout this century.
In the U.S. military, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have fought in this nations wars and conflicts, and four of the 39 Hispanic recipients of the U.S. Congressional Medal of Honor are Puerto Rican. For many years, Puerto Rico has boasted the top two U.S. Army recruiting posts (out of the 232 worldwide), and has consistently maintained its top-ranked stats.
In sports, Major League Baseball has inducted two Puerto Ricans into its Hall of Fame: Roberto Clemente and Orlando Cepeda. Five Puerto Ricans: Iván Rodríguez, Roberto Alomar, Benito Santiago, Sandy Alomar and Bernie Williams have close to 25 Golden Glove awards between them, with Alomar and Rodriguez both with nine. Juan González has been MVP of the American League twice (96 and 98), Iván Rodríguez (99) and Willie Hernandez (84); with Orlando Cepeda (67) and Roberto Clemente (66) also conquering the award in the National League.
In boxing, Wilfredo Benítez is the youngest fighter in boxing history to win a world title at age 17, and also the youngest boxer inducted into Boxings Hall of Fame at 37, an honor formerly held by Michael Spinks. In addition to Trinidad and Ruiz, other distinguished boxing Puerto Rican champs have included Sixto Escobar, Wilfredo Gómez, Edwin "Chapo" Rosario, José "Cheguii" Torres, Carlos Ortíz, Macho Camacho, Wilfredo Vázquez, John John Molina, Estéban de Jesús and several others.
In professional golf, Chi-Chi Rodríguez has won 22 Senior PGA tours and 8 Regular PGA Tournaments during his ongoing 40-year career.
In tennis, Gigi Fernandez - together with Natasha Zvereva - won 14 Grand Slam titles. Fernandez also won two Olympic Tennis Gold Medals, at Atlanta and Barcelona.
Marisol Malaret (1970), Deborah Carthy-Deu (1985) and Dayanara Torres (1993), were the three previous Puerto Ricans crowned as Miss Universe, preceding the recently named Denise Quiñones. Puerto Rico now ties Venezuelas four and both are only second to the U.S.A.s seven queens.
Antonia Novello was the first woman and first Hispanic to serve as Surgeon General of the United States. Aida Alvarez was the first Hispanic woman and first Puerto Rican to serve as a member of the President's Cabinet when she was appointed Administrator of the Small Business Administration in 1997.
Rita Moreno won an Oscar in 1962 for Best Supporting Actress in "West Side Story," making her the only Hispanic actress to win an Academy Award. Other well-known Puerto Rican actors included Oscar winner José Ferrer, Chita Rivera and Raúl Juliá.
There are many other well-respected entertainers such as four-time Grammy winner Tito Puente, Emmy and Golden Globe winner Jimmy Smits, Grammy winner Ricky Martin, Jenniffer López, Marc Anthony, and Geraldo Rivera.
But more importantly for us in the State of Florida, close to half-a-million modest Puerto Ricans are quietly giving this great State the very best they have to offer. As Puerto Ricans, we are proud of our accomplishments and pleased to be an important part of our way of life. But just because we are people known for nicknames such as John Ruiz: "The Quiet Man" shouldnt mean that we should continue being a population overlooked. Happy 2001, Puerto Rico!
The author is president of the Puerto Rican Professional Association of South Florida, on the Web at www.profesa.org.