A monument has been built in New Britain to commemorate the service of a segregated United States Army unit made up of volunteers from the island of Puerto Rico -- the Borinqueneers. On Saturday, dignitaries from Connecticut and Puerto Rico came together to honor these veterans.
The Borinqueneers fought alongside other American soldiers in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. In 1952, members of the regiment had been replaced.
Senator Richard Blumenthal said it was about time to honor the unit that fought foreign enemies while facing discrimination at home.
“This Congressional Gold Medal is only a token of what this nation owes to these brave men,” Blumenthal said. “They are leaving us. They’re in their 80s and 90s. We’re lucky to have the ones who survived. They should be an example for us of what patriotism means and what we owe our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico.”
Citations and Congressional Gold Medals were presented to living Borinqueneers—and also to loved ones of those that have passed.
Blumenthal was there to present a Congressional Gold Medal to the family of Manuel Jimenez. He served in World War I and died in 1966. Susan Moser, one of Jimenez’s daughters, accepted the award on his behalf.
“I’m sure my father would be so proud because he had no idea how important his service was,” Moser said. “He just served.”
Jimenez moved from Puerto Rico to Manhattan in 1924. That’s where Susan was born. Jimenez himself never lived in Connecticut, but his daughter now does. This might not have happened for the Jimenez family had Susan not done some research on her father’s service a couple years back.
“I realized that my dad was in the 65th Infantry and I contacted them,” Moser said. “And then, it started from there.”
New Britain’s Latino Coalition then reached out to Moser when they were planning this event to let her know her dad would be honored.
In a week, Celestino Cordova will be 89. He served for the Borinqueneers in Korea over 60 years ago.
“Some of the new generation doesn’t know the history of Puerto Rico and the history of America so we are happy that we can have a monument like this so that we can be able to translate [that history],” Cordova said. “If people don’t know, they can ask questions and we can answer it.”
The governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, spoke at the event and called on Puerto Ricans from Connecticut to remember the service of the soldiers and to pay tribute to them by taking care of those who were affected by Hurricane Maria.
“Every time we pass this monument, let’s ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing today to make those that came before us proud of the things we’re doing to make America and Puerto Rico a better place?’” Rosello said. “I can tell you that I’m fully committed to making sure that those of us [who] live on the island, after this devastating event, get a fair share—get equal treatment.”
New Britain’s memorial dedicated to the Borinqueneers is the largest outside of Puerto Rico.