En español: ™POR QUÉ SE EXCLUYE A
PUERTO RICO DE LOS NUEVOS MEDALLONES PARA LA AVENIDA DE LAS AMÉRICAS?
OPINION: By Miguel Pérez Part II
There is no other plausible explanation: When New York City Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez chose to exclude Puerto Rico from the list of 35 medallions that will be restored on the Avenue of the Americas, he obviously had not done his homework — not enough to know that Puerto Rico indeed had medallions that should be replaced!
Rodriguez not only stole the idea of restoring the medallions from the “Save the Medallions” campaign I led with my former students over the past six months, without giving us credit, he also chose to exclude the largest Hispanic group in the city!
How does that happen? How do you leave Puerto Rico out of the Americas? I don’t want to believe it’s outright discrimination, so I have to believe it’s outright stupidity!
Otherwise, how is it possible for the city's Department of Transportation (DOT) not to realize that Puerto Rico once had medallions that should be restored? How is it possible that they did not do the research that would have told them that Puerto Rico medallions were originally installed in 1965 by former mayor Robert Wagner and reinstalled in 1984 by former mayor Ed Koch?
Back in April, when I walked the entire Avenue and found that only 14 countries are still represented, I made a list of all the medallions I thought were missing. Not knowing which countries were represented there before, I came up with a very inclusive list of 34 additional nation medallions. My list included all the territories of the Americas, whether or not they are colonies or independent nations. So, in total, I thought medallions representing 48 countries and/or colonies were needed. After all, they are all part of the Americas, right?
Yet Rodriguez came up with a list of only 35. Apparently, the DOT created a list of which doesn't include colonies, only independent nations. And so Rodriguez left out 13 medallions I expected to see, including Puerto Rico's. I could not believe my eyes!
Would he dare argue that Puerto Rico never had a medallion? Or is there another, perhaps more insidious reason for excluding the Puerto Rican community at his Oct. 13 press conference? And if this was a stupid oversight, why has it taken him so long to correct it?
If he had seen the photo of Koch with a Puerto Rico medallion, would he have ignored the Puerto Rican community as shamelessly as he ignored the "Save the Medallions" campaign?
How do you recognize the city's communities from the Americas and not recognize the community that built a blood-sweat-and-tears foundation for all the others to thrive? Of all the communities that deserve a medallion, Puerto Ricans deserve it most!
That's why I felt somewhat confident in including Puerto Rico on my list of missing medallions. "It had to be there," I told myself. "They wouldn't dare leave Puerto Rico out."
I felt even better when journalist Javier E. Gomez, called me, following my interview on his TV program in May, to tell me he had the proof to confirm that Puerto Rico medallions actually existed. "Wait until you see the photo I'm going to send you!" he said.
And there it was, in my email, a photo that really spoke louder than a thousand words! It was the image of former Mayor Koch, up on a bucket lift, celebrating the installment a Puerto Rico medallion, and doing what the current mayor has apparently not even considered!
How could he? His own DOT came up with a list that doesn't include Puerto Rico!
Further research into the origin of Puerto Rico medallions revealed that it was not among the originals installed by former Mayor Robert Wagner in 1959. They were added by Wagner on June 4, 1965, following some pressure from Puerto Rican community leaders and merchants, who had created scrolls with the Puerto Rican coats of arms and hung them on the Avenue since 1961. See NY Times clippings on this page.
Also responding to pressure, because his DOT added "Sixth Avenue" to the Avenue of the Americas street signs and diluted the significance of the Avenue, Koch "rededicated" the Avenue of the Americas on Dec. 20, 1984. On that day, Koch introduced six additional nation medallions and climbed on a bucket lift to "unveil" a new Puerto Rico medallion — on W. 42nd Street! See the Daily News and NY Times clippings on this page.
But with those additional six — Antigua, Belize, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent — it is still unclear how many medallions there were in 1984, and how the current DOT came up with 35, without Puerto Rico!
Yet some things are very clear: Mayor Wagner installed the first Puerto Rico medallions in 1965, Mayor Koch reinstalled them in 1984 and Mayor Eric Adams ignored them in 2022. It turns out that Wagner had to be pressured by the Puerto Rican community. So what do we have to do now, Mayor Adams, come up with new scrolls?
And what about the Puerto Ricans in the Adams administration? Are they not ashamed of what they are seeing? Have they questioned why Puerto Rico is missing? Do they know about their ancestors in the "Puerto Rican Seal Day Committee" and the scrolls they had to make to get a medallion?
Perhaps the mayor should consider a moratorium on "botella-hiring." In English: He needs to stop repaying political favors by hiring incompetent city officials. And does he really think that using the Puerto Rican Day Parade as a self-serving political rally is a good idea, especially while ignoring the medallions elephant in the room?
To enlarge these images, click on them!
NY Daily News, Dec. 21, 1984
And what about Rep. Adriano Espaillat? When he stood with Rodriguez at the DOT press conference, next to a list of medallions that excludes Puerto Rico, was he thinking of his many Puerto Rican constituents?
It has been many years since I was a New York Daily News columnist, assigned to cover the city's Hispanic community. Perhaps I expected a much stronger reaction from Puerto Rican community leaders because I remember that, in the 1980s, this would not have been tolerated.
By now, three weeks after Rodriguez' pathetic press conference excluding Puerto Rico, there would have been community meetings and even demonstrations to respond to such discrimination.
I keep thinking about Puerto Rican community leaders who are no longer with us. What would they do if they were here? I say the late Pedro Pietri would be writing protest poems, Angelo Falcon would be sending out press releases, Marta Garcia would be organizing demonstrations, Hector LaVoe, Tito Puente and Ray Barretto would be talking about it between every song, and the late Sen. Olga Mendez would be giving fiery speeches to anyone willing to listen! And that's just a few of them! I keep thinking of my late friend Apolinar Trinidad, a Dominican like Rodriguez, who worked so closely with Puerto Ricans and would be offended by what is happening now.
"Things have changed," a Puerto Rican friend told me. "Our leaders are not what they used to be."
But there are new ones emerging, young Puerto Ricans like Cynthia Rios, one of my former students who has been diligently collecting signatures for the “Save the Medallions” petition. To her, Rodriguez’s attention-grabbing maneuver was a double slap in the face. She was already alarmed because the Puerto Rico medallion is already missing. But when she saw that Puerto Rico would not be included in the new medallions, she began to consider new petitions.
“Now I feel that we need two petitions,” Rios says. ”One demanding that the Puerto Rico medallion must be included and one asking Mayor Adams to fire Commissioner Rodriguez. He should not appoint people of color to positions of power if they are going to practice the very discrimination we are trying to eliminate in politics.”
So, stay tuned. This doesn’t end here.
btw, If you see commissioner Rodriguez announcing that Puerto Rico will be included (AS HE SHOULD) and taking all the credit, please tell him you read it here first.