Students celebrate Puerto Rico

Standing in the doorway of the Yale President’s office 33 years ago, Eduardo Padro ’75 refused to move until the Puerto Rican community got the attention it deserved. Now a New York Justice of the Supreme Court, Padro did not want to leave La Casa — the Latino Cultural House — on Saturday night until Puerto Rican students at Yale appreciated this history.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of Despierta Boricua, the Puerto Rican cultural group founded by Padro and his fellow Puerto Rican classmates. To celebrate the occasion, Despierta Boricua, or DB, is hosting a week-long celebration, which started Saturday with a dinner and speech from Padro himself. The week’s events also include a cooking night tonight, a movie screening Tuesday, a Master’s Tea with New York State Sen. Jose M. Serrano on Wednesday and a party on Friday night.

The Puerto Rican community at Yale is responsible for much of the cultural awareness found on campus today, members said. In 1974, Puerto Rican students founded La Casa Bouricua, which later became La Casa Cultural, now the home of all Latino cultural groups at Yale.

On Saturday night, Padro challenged students to continue to ask difficult questions of their leaders. He told stories of the mid-1970s, when he used to meet with the University’s president once a month to discuss the issues facing Puerto Rican students. Each month he and his friends would attend the meeting with a list of demands, imploring the administration to admit students of color from public high schools and provide ample space to house the cultural group.

Alumni and students who listened to Padro’s speech said they were moved by his passion and dedication, DB President Alberto Medina ’07 said.

“The justice was unbelievable,” DB Treasurer Etienne Vazquez ’08 said. “The fact that he cares so much is incredible. He really wants to make sure the Latino population at Yale has a voice that is loud and clear.”

DB member Sebastian Perez ’10 said the Justice’s speech allowed for some important self-reflection.

“I don’t feel we know as much about our history as we should, and Justice Padro enlightened us about how he had fought to basically provide what we Latinos at Yale often take for granted,” Perez said. “It really made me recognize the privileges of being at Yale in 2007 versus attending Yale in the 1960s and the 1970s.”

After the dinner in Dwight Hall, discussion moved to La Casa, where alumni and current students spoke about issues remaining within the Puerto Rican community in America, such as the differences between those from “the island” and those born in the United States, the majority of whom are from New York.

Medina said he hopes these discussions will continue in a larger forum at the Ezra Stiles College Master’s Tea with State Sen. Seranno on Wednesday.

“As a prominent New York politician who’s done a lot of good things for Puerto Ricans, I think Serrano will have a lot of interesting things to say,” Medina said.

There will also be a movie screening of “Palante, Siempre, Palante!” at La Casa on Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. The film documents the work of the Young Lords, a militant Puerto Rican group, which fought for economic, racial and social justice in the 1960s.

Despierta Boricua translates to “Wake up, Puerto Ricans,” a name which serves to remind the group of the cultural issues facing Puerto Ricans living in America, Perez said.

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