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Plan To Cut Three Kings Day As A Holiday Draws Anger…Don't Take Away Three Kings Day

Plan To Cut Three Kings Day As A Holiday Draws Anger

By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

Feb. 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE HARTFORD COURANT. All rights reserved.

Residents angry over a proposal to eliminate Three Kings Day as a holiday next year gave the Hartford school board an earful Tuesday night.

Edna Negron, director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration and a member of the state board of trustees previously in charge of the schools, said she and others learned about the change in the calendar less than an hour before the meeting.

"Talk about cultural relevancy, it is a revered holiday," Negron said before the meeting was called into session. "It is inviolate. It's a lack of respect. As far as I'm concerned, something smells."

Negron told the board that she was very angry. As far back as the 1970s, she said, "it took a lot of effort to have this holiday put on the school calendar. ... This would be a devastating step back. I don't think our community would accept it willingly. And I don't think they would accept it quietly."

Indeed, with little advance notice, about a dozen supporters of the holiday showed up at the meeting. Some called the proposal an "insult" to the Puerto Rican community.

Cathy Carpino, first vice president of the teachers' union, said teachers didn't get a chance to review the policy because administrators didn't pass on a final draft until earlier in the day.

Robert Stacy, the district's director of operations, said the administration was proposing to drop the holiday because it falls next year on the Tuesday after the return from Christmas vacation, in effect extending the vacation by two days. It doesn't make sense, he said, to bring students back for one day after a long holiday and then give them another day off.

"Schools can conduct cultural activities during the school day as we do with other cultural events," Stacy said.

The board delayed acting on the policy until its next meeting. The Rev. Wayne Carter, board chairman, said it's likely the board will restore the holiday to the school calendar.

Don't Take Away Three Kings Day


Feb. 16, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE HARTFORD COURANT. All rights reserved.

Three Kings Day. El Día de los Reyes. Just saying it brings an immediate, deep emotional reaction, a "something" that wraps around my heart and makes my stomach a little jumpy with anticipation.

There are images of troubadours coming to our door singing aguinaldos (Puerto Rican Christmas carols) and dressed as the Tres Reyes Magos on horseback; of searching the jet-black sky looking for the star of Bethlehem and the path that the Three Kings would follow to reach Earth on that blessed night; of searching for fresh green grass to put in shoeboxes under our beds for the camels; of sharing a bed with a bunch of cousins visiting from San Juan, all of us shaking with excitement. This was the night when the kings found the baby Jesus and presented him with their gifts of gold, incense and myrrh. Now they were bringing their gifts to us!

We carried that tradition with us from Puerto Rico despite the New England cold, the snow that covered the grass most Januaries and the overwhelming, commercial Santa Claus as the symbol of Christmas.

Although Three Kings Day is a tradition in all Spanish-speaking countries, in Puerto Rico that day, Jan. 6, is revered as in no other country. As my children grew up in Hartford's Puerto Rican community, they learned to revere such cultural traditions that define us as a people. My grandchildren are also deeply steeped in the tradition of Three Kings Day.

The Hartford public school administration has made a grave mistake in recommending that the annual Three Kings Day school holiday be eliminated.

In 1977, with María Sánchez as secretary of the Hartford Board of Education and Edwin Vargas on the executive board of the Hartford Federation of Teachers, the Hartford school board adopted Three Kings Day as a school holiday. This momentous event was preceded by a lot of hard work by members of the Puerto Rican community, but the efforts of those two individuals must be underscored. The student population at that time was 30 percent Puerto Rican and rising. The board, the administration and the HFT agreed to make Three Kings Day a holiday in recognition of the cultural traditions of Hartford's Puerto Rican students and their families and of the critical part that culture plays in educating a child and building self-esteem.

Fast-forward to 2003. The student population is now more than 50 percent Latino, mostly Puerto Rican. The Hartford public schools administration recommends the elimination of Three Kings Day as a school holiday.

Apparently, the reason for this proposal is because Three Kings Day falls next year on the Tuesday after children return from Christmas vacation - an inconvenient time. Also, administrators want the Hartford public schools' calendar to match those of surrounding towns participating in magnet schools.

This can only be described as "una falta de respeto" - a lack of respect. I am glad María Sánchez did not live to see how her efforts could be so thoughtlessly dismissed.

It didn't matter to the school administration that this was something hard-fought for back in 1977, when our community was a lot smaller. No thought was given to the impact of such an act on the students, families and community that celebrate that very special day with church services, celebratory dinners and an annual parade. The Three Kings Day celebration has afforded the Puerto Rican/Latino community the opportunity to share our unique culture and enrich the fabric of our capital city. Cities such as Bridgeport have followed our example.

The school administration's insensitivity to an important holiday is not acceptable. Rather than change Hartford's school calendar to match other schools', how about having them adopt our holiday? There is a significant increase in Latinos in Hartford's neighboring suburban towns. I am certain that I speak for the majority of Hartford's Puerto Rican/Latino residents when I say that no, we will not give up our holiday. This cannot be allowed to pass.

Edna N. Negrón Rosario is Connecticut and Rhode Island regional director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration and a former member of the state-appointed Board of Trustees for the Hartford public schools.

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