Latin American Veterans in Philadelphia are remembering their success after a long history of service to their communities.
“We need role models,” said Juvencio Gonzalez, outreach coordinator for State Senator Mike Stack. “When they went [to war] they didn’t have Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks.”
The veterans of United States’ 65th Infantry, nicknamed the Borinqueneers, have fought for recognition in communities where they have become symbols of change themselves.
“They were called all sorts of names,” Gonzalez said.
The Puerto Rican military unit served in WWI, WWII, and Korea, when “the Pentagon allowed segregation.” But, Hispanics continued to serve in the U.S. Military long after segregation was abolished in the United States Armed Forces.
“It is the most distinguished military unit in Puerto Rico,” explained Samuel Rodríguez, the liaison who is working with the United States Mint to design the Congressional Medal of Honor that was awarded to the Borinqueneers last June. “A lot of the Medals of Honor were never awarded to Hispanics.”
A portion of Whitaker Avenue between Erie and Roosevelt Boulevard was officially designated 65th Infantry Borinqueneers Avenue earlier this month by state lawmakers. The Avenue will serve as another reminder of the sacrifices Puerto Rican veterans have made in a neighborhood that is largely Hispanic, according to the Pew Charitable Trust.
Gonzalez said the recognition could add ”positiveness” to the Latin American identity.
“Kids will think twice about dropping out [of school],” Gonzalez said. “We have someone to look up to.”
-Text, photos and video by Nic Cutrona.