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Amherst celebrates Puerto Rican Heritage Day

  • The raising of the Puerto Rican flag as part of the celebration in Amherst Monday morning. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A crowd of Amherst students and adults gather at the Amherst Town Hall steps for the Puerto Rican Day flag raising and celebration Monday morning. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Above, Jaden Caraballo, 12, sings for a crowd of Amherst students and adults at the Puerto Rican Day flag raising and celebration on the Town Hall steps Monday morning. To his right is his sister, Jaylidelh Caraballo, who spoke at the event as well. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A crowd of Amherst students and adults gather and watch as the Puerto Rican flag is raised in Amherst as part of Puerto Rican Day celebration Monday morning. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS



Staff Writer
Monday, November 19, 2018

AMHERST — After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in 2017, fuel, food, medicine, clothing and other aid was slow to reach the island, a situation caused, to an extent, by the Jones Act, which requires goods to be transported by ships owned and operated by U.S. citizens.

Understanding that people on her homeland may have died and suffered as a result, Jaylidelh Mariah Caraballo, an eighth grader at Amherst Regional Middle School, is calling on Amherst leaders to be at the forefront of changing this nearly century-old federal law.

“My hope today is to have adults reform or repeal this outrageous act,” Caraballo said.

Speaking at the Puerto Rican Heritage Day Monday morning, an event in which the Puerto Rican flag was raised on a flagpole in front of Town Hall, Caraballo also discussed the importance of music and food to Puerto Ricans, the beautiful beaches and palm trees and how everyone is family.

“To this day I don’t know how many relatives I have,” she said.

Caraballo, part of the VELA after-school program and a voice on the student council, said she is confident town leaders will heed her suggestion because of the negative impact the Jones Act had after the hurricane. “Amherst is a good community and will do anything to help,” Caraballo said.

The special event, which brought together more than 100 students, from both the regional high school and middle school and Fort River elementary school, was organized by Marta Guevara, the director of student and family engagement for the public schools.

Guevara described her own arrival in the area from Puerto Rico, with her family coming with just four suitcases 40 years ago. She said it was important to revive the tradition of Puerto Rican Heritage Day, and give students a way to participate.

“We will have student voices every year,” Guevera said.

This year’s participants included Omar Jimenez Soto, a senior at Amherst Regional, who read the proclamation adopted by the Select Board, which cites achievements and importance of Puerto Rico, and Jaden Mikhail Caraballo, who performed a rap song reflecting on the losses suffered in the hurricane.

Students also got to hold signs and wave small Puerto Rican flags.

Before the large flag was raised, Michelle Rodriguez, of the Amherst Regional Public Schools Family Center, performed La Borinqueña, the Puerto Rican National Anthem.

Anastasia Ordonez, chairwoman of the Amherst School Committee, spoke in both Spanish and English, describing tremendous pride in Puerto Rico and rebuking President Donald Trump, who she said has forgotten contributions of the diverse populations in the country, and instead maligned and degraded them.

Ordonez said it was important to let the community’s Puerto Rican sisters and brothers know that they are seen as Americans and respected and appreciated.

School Superintendent Michael Morris used the gathering to talk about the dual language program beginning next year at Fort River that will have kindergartners split their day between learning in English and in Spanish. He told the fifth and sixth graders that they will be leaders for these younger students,

Though Pelham Elementary first graders had been scheduled to sing, they were unable to make it. But their teacher, Giselle Gonzalez, explained that she teaches Puerto Rican history to them, including learning about the Taino Indians, the indigenous peoples encountered by Christopher Columbus when he landed there exactly 525 years ago.

Though a cold drizzle was coming down for much of the event, the mood was cheerful.

“It’s raining, but it’s not keeping us from being really happy to celebrate this day,” Guevara said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.