People of all races assembled at Trenton City Hall on Thursday to listen to speeches and honor the Trenton Puerto Rican Community and Friends Organization board as they hosted a swearing-in ceremony for their new executive officers, and remembered the 65th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army, also known as the Borinqueneers.
Krystal DeLeón, the new President of The Trenton Puerto Rican Community and Friends Organization, said that she was excited to see everyone.
“I’m very excited to see this great turnout. We suspected that a lot of people will come but we just didn’t expect it to be this much support. So it warms my heart to see this kind of reaction,” DeLeón said. “These types of events are important for the community, not only just for the Puerto Rican culture and Hispanic culture, but with the current mission of the organization, which is to be more inclusive and more collaborative with everyone.”
The Puerto Rican community has a long history in the city of Trenton. Many arrived in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s and made many contributions that helped shape this city. Having such a vibrant and active community, it was only natural to have a parade to celebrate the culture and provide a space to display their love for Puerto Rico.
For decades, “El Desfile Puertorriqueño,” also known as the “Puerto Rican Parade of Trenton,” took over the city streets with floats, representing every town on the island, with food and music that transported residents back to “La Isla del Encanto.” Maria Richardson, Director of Recreation, Natural Resources & Culture for the City of Trenton, sang the Puerto Rican Anthem, La Borinqueña, at the ceremony. She explained that Trenton embraces the different cultures brought into the city.
“Embracing diversity has to be one of the principles of any municipality particularly at a place like Trenton when we have so many Latinos and people of different nationalities. I think that that’s how you make your city stronger, “Richardson said. “So this is very important for us. We really welcome this type of activities in City Hall. You know, this is not just for people who work in City Hall. This is the house of the residents of Trenton of any nationality.”
The Trenton Puerto Rican Community & Friends Organization recognizes the impact these parades and past events had in strengthening the Puerto Rican identity within the community and providing an opportunity to learn and connect with their native roots.
That connection helped shape the values and beliefs that have led the new executive team to accept the challenge of continuing the legacy of those who came before them. It is especially important for this organization to have the ability to reach the youth while simultaneously sharing the Puerto Rican culture with other communities.
Alba Hernandez-Kanig, Treasure of the Trenton Puerto Rican Community & Friends Organization, explained that she wants her son to learn about her culture from those around her.
“So I want my son…to be a part of those kinds of events and know more about his culture…. that’s something that we can also, you know, do in this organization, like create workshops, and get people who are interested in learning more about their culture,” Hernandez-Kanig said.
Part of learning about culture is discussing history. During the ceremony, there was a special memorial honoring of the life and legacy of the 65th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army during the ceremony, also known as the Borinqueneers. Jacqueline León, Vice President, explained the importance of learning about minority history in the United States.
“It’s an entirely Puerto Rican Troop that fought in several wars in the United States and we’re not recognizing that they were court martialed and punished often, when in fact they were sent on suicide missions,” León said.
The regiment, who took the nickname Borinqueneers, honoring the indigenous Tainos of Puerto Rico, served in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. She explained that it is important for anyone looking to learn about history to research and learn the history of different cultures.
“What we know about our history here in the United States is often time, our communities of color, African Americans, Asian Pacific Islanders, Latinos have been excluded, despite the many contributions and accomplishments that they have brought to this country,” León said.
Retired Master Sergeant of the United States Airforce, Richard Rodriguez, whose father served in the 65th Infantry Regiment of the U.S. Army, spoke to the crowd about the importance of remembering those in The Borinqueneers.
“It’s a story that should have been told a long time ago because although the unit was from Puerto Rico. It’s American. It’s not just Puerto Rican history… they suffered a lot, you know, got no little or no recognition,” Rodriguez said.
After decades of demanding proper recognition for their contribution and sacrifices, they were finally honored, in 2014, by receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest expression of national appreciation.