Letter to the editor: It's Puerto Ricans' turn to help others

Then-New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito greets onlookers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2014.
Then-New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito greets onlookers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2014.
William Alatriste/For the New York City Council
Then-New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito greets onlookers at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in 2014.

Letter to the editor: It's Puerto Ricans' turn to help others

Reallocating funds from Centro was about supporting another generation of immigrants.
June 21, 2018

Note: This letter to the editor was written in response to “Puerto Rican groups see budget fortunes shift without Mark-Viverito," published June 13. The reporter reached out to former New York City Council Speaker Melisssa Mark-Viverio at the time, but was not able to make contact before deadline.

Anyone who truly knows me understands that my more than 30 years of commitment to the Puerto Rican community and to building solidarity with others in the interest of justice has been unwavering. While critics can have their opinions of my work, they are not entitled to misrepresent it.

I am a product of the Puerto Rican experience, of grandparents who moved to New York, and parents who went back to the island. Our ancestors and pioneros clearly saw that while Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens on paper, we were not viewed as equals. So our community organized. It developed leadership, founded lasting institutions and built up political muscle. This was not easy, and it came with lots of pain but also triumphs.

Puerto Ricans here paved the way for mandating bilingual education, defeating discriminatory voter provisions, pushing for the establishment of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and establishing the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, among many other outcomes. I have been told time and time again that the struggles and victories of the Puerto Rican community have served as examples of what can be accomplished when we galvanize power in numbers to enact change.

As now an established and long-standing community that to a great extent has opened doors for immigrant and migrant communities, we have a moral obligation to extend our support to them as they chart their path. This includes boosting their research institutes.  This is the foundation and context of my decision to reallocate funds from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, which is being misrepresented by those who seek to divide our community instead of empowering and embracing unity.

As the inaugural ethnic research institute at CUNY founded in 1973, Centro has had a long history of prestige and growth, with deeply embedded support that makes it sustainable and easily able to garner key partnerships in ways that more recent institutions are coming into.  I am proud that as a result of sharing the wealth, the Mexican Studies Institute at Lehman College (founded in 2012) and the Haitian Studies Institute based at Brooklyn College (founded in 2016) were able to further entrench themselves as academic institutes for important immigrant communities that also have every right to tell their stories and shape policy. Building bridges and sharing resources that lift all will always be my default approach.

A recent attack on me and my decision barely masks a “quitate tu para ponerme yo” mentality espoused by those perpetuating inaccuracies to make themselves look like “rescuers” of Centro. Let’s be clear, never once did any of those now choosing to present false arguments ask to engage with me or have a conversation with me, neither at the time I made my decision nor presently. Instead, they opted to believe the false and misguided protestations of Centro’s director. It is all the more shameful that the director is attempting to use the frenzy created by reactionary outside forces surrounding last year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade as a reason why funding was cut. That is not true. To state such a falsehood is guided by a desire to mislead and conflate unrelated issues. Let me be clear, that had nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately, none of this hot air is dedicated to the fact that organizations that offer direct services to Puerto Ricans were cut in the 2018-19 budget as reported in City & State by Jeff Coltin. At a time when New York City is experiencing an influx of Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria, one would think that funding for these organizations would be at the same level or increased. Where is the leadership and where is the outcry for these families? By focusing on me, they can avoid having a conversation about these larger, meaningful issues that are leaving families devastated.

Let’s not fall victim to alternative facts and instead remain focused on bringing resources to bear for keeping our families safe and defending them.

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Melissa Mark-Viverito