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52nd Anniversary of Commonwealth Status Celebrated... Proud to be Puerto Rican

52nd Anniversary of Commonwealth Status Celebrated

by JOSE FERNANDEZ COLON, Associated Press Writer

AP Newswires

July 25, 2004
Copyright © 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

PONCE, PR -- Thousands celebrated the 52nd anniversary of the island's constitution and U.S. commonwealth status as officials used Sunday's ceremonies for election-year speeches interspersed with salsa music.

Gov. Sila Calderon denounced corruption scandals in the past though she didn't directly mention recent cases brought against the opposition New Progressive Party, which preceded her administration and supports making Puerto Rico the 51st U.S. state.

"There hasn't been any tolerance for corrupt individuals. My hand has never trembled," Calderon said, adding that officials in the past tried to take Puerto Rico along a dark path. "You people feel ashamed of this and won't let it happen ever again."

Pedro Rossello, governor from 1993 to 2001, left office after two terms marred by corruption cases involving more than 20 officials of his administration. Rossello, who is running for governor again in the Nov. 2 election, has denied any knowledge of corruption under his administration and has promised to crack down if elected.

Calderon, the U.S. Caribbean territory's first female governor, announced months ago that she was not running for a second term. The Popular Democratic Party chose Anibal Acevedo Vila, the territory's nonvoting delegate to U.S. Congress, to replace her as the party's candidate.

During his speech at the event, Acevedo pointed to Calderon and former Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon, saying: "I tell both of you, in the name of a new generation of Puerto Ricans who dream of a new Puerto Rico: We are ready."

Numerous times during their speeches, Calderon and Acevedo would read a few lines and pause to let a several lines of salsa pump into the jubilant crowd, which was waving U.S. and Puerto Rico flags.

With the help of U.S. assistance and tax breaks, the island has become one of the wealthiest places in Latin America, though poverty remains more severe than on the mainland.

Deep divisions remain over Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States, with many supporting statehood and a smaller group backing independence.

Dozens of independence activists rallied Sunday about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of Ponce in southwestern Guanica to protest the July 25, 1898, U.S. invasion that wrested Puerto Rico from Spain. Another several dozen gathered at Cerro Maravilla in the central mountain range at the spot were two activists were shot dead by police 26 years ago.

Police initially said they fired in self-defense at the militants, who were armed with handguns. But officers later testified the two surrendered before police beat and shot them -- one as he begged for mercy on his knees. Several officers were convicted of murder.

Puerto Ricans became American citizens in 1917 and many fought and died in the U.S. military, including about 20 who have been killed in the recent Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Islanders can't vote for president, however, and have no vote in Congress. They pay no U.S. income tax, but the commonwealth receives more than $14 billion in annual federal funds.

Many Puerto Ricans prize U.S. citizenship, which allows 3.4 million of them to live in the U.S. mainland. About 4 million live on the island.

Proud to Be Puerto Rican

by JOSE CARDENAS, Staff Writer

The Morning Call

July 27, 2004
Copyright © 2004 The Morning Call. All rights reserved.

Joscelyn Zayas, the Puerto Rican queen of Allentown, set the mood early Sunday from her perch on a red and white float on a short trek through center city.

''Arriba Puerto Rico'' yelled the smiling queen dressed in an elegant red dress and long red gloves as her float headed west on Gordon Street to start the 11th annual Puerto Rican Parade.

Two men in the crowd jumped up and down and repeated with her: ''Arriba Puerto Rico.''

''It was great,'' the 17-year-old queen, a student at Allen High School, said a short while later after the parade emptied into Jordan Park. ''I felt like the two Puerto Ricans out there represented my culture.''

The parade and subsequent Latin festival at the park, where Zayas posed for photographs, marked the end of Puerto Rican Cultural Week, which began July 16.

Events during the week, all of which were organized by the Puerto Rican Cultural Alliance, included an awards gala, a car show, an arts and crafts show, a bowling tournament, and the raising of the Puerto Rican flag last Monday at City Hall.

The parade started a day filled with salsa and merengue music blasting from car stereos on the streets and the performance stages at the park.

Thousands of people waved Puerto Rican flags or wore red, white and blue clothes and hats.

''It brings out my roots,'' said Victoria Cuadra, 52, waving two flags as the parade passed before her. ''I'm so proud we are able to have this day, to see our young generation celebrating as well.''

''I feel really good,'' said Junior Rivera, 41, who was born in Ponce on the island. ''God bless Puerto Rico. God bless America.''

Participants walking the parade route included groups of girls – such as the Allentown Lightning Cheerleaders and the Roberto Clemente Batareras – dancing to fast-tempo music.

Lowriders and trucks wowed teenage spectators, and members of the Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Alliance threw candy into the crowd.

The parade also brought out politicians who crossed Sixth Street back and forth to shake people's hands.

''I was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico,'' said Republican Al Nelthropp, who spoke to people in Spanish and is running for a seat in the state Legislature. ''I'm telling them, 'I'm going to represent you.'''

Democrat Joe Driscoll, who is running for a seat in Congress, found a different way to make himself appealing to Puerto Rican voters.

He brought Jose Torres, a Puerto Rican boxer from New York who won the light heavyweight world title in 1965 at Madison Square Garden, to ride in the parade with him.

Torres explained that he knows Driscoll through his friend writer Norman Mailer, whose son Michael is a good friend of Driscoll's from their days at Harvard.

''I figured I'd bring the heavy guns by the parade,'' Michael Mailer said. He said Driscoll cares about affordable housing, an issue that also concerns Torres. ''I figured politically; it was a good fit.''

After the parade, people trickled into the park to hear music, see dance acts and get a taste of Puerto Rican food.

Police estimated at least 4,000 people were there by 3 p.m.

The crowd was expected to grow after 5 p.m. when the night's biggest acts, including the Emmy-nominated Puerto Rican group Son by Four, were scheduled to perform.

''This is how we started in New York,'' Torres said as he surveyed the crowd. ''I'm enchanted to be here, because when I was boxing, I went to activities like this.''

The festival has come a long way since it first was held, said Felix Molina of the Puerto Rican Cultural Alliance.

He remembers the first event, when only about 500 people came, and the entertainment consisted of the music he played on his stereo.

Now, he is encouraged that some of the parade participants and spectators – like the Roberto Clemente baton-twirling girls from Massachusetts – come from out of state.

The attendance of politicians and organizations such as Amnesty International and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now is a sign that Puerto Ricans in Allentown are being incorporated more fully into the broader community, he said.

''They know already we have raised in the last three months 3,000 registrations,'' said Molina.

But Sunday, he emphasized to the crowd, was a day to honor Puerto Rican culture, and he told them that only Spanish would be spoken onstage.

Allentown's chief of police saw it as an opportunity to practice his Spanish.

''Welcome to the festival,'' he said in Spanish. ''I'm Joseph Blackburn, the chief of police, extending an invitation for you to enjoy this day … your culture.''

''I was very happy when the chief of police started talking in Spanish,'' Molina said. ''Ten years ago, you didn't see that.''

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