Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Puerto Rican Day Parade Controversy: A Reverend's Perspective

By Rev. Dr. Raymond Rivera

After praying and reflecting about the issue that is currently before the officials and committee members of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, in reference to the awarding of the National Hero Medal to Oscar Lopez Rivera.

The following are my thoughts on the issue surrounding the National Puerto Rican Day Parade and Oscar Lopez Rivera:

Mr. Rivera was incarcerated for over 35 years, 12 of those years in solitary confinement, for his beliefs and determination to fight for the independence of Puerto Rico.

I am Puerto Rican. I gave my heart to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in a Puerto Rican Pentecostal Church. My spiritual formation leaders were Puerto Ricans. I attended a bible institute led by Puerto Rican faith leaders. I am concerned about the Puerto Rican community and the issues that affect it.

I do not claim to speak for all segments of the Puerto Rican religious community nor do I have a monopoly on absolute truth. This is my own subjective understanding after analyzing the issue.

It is my hope that you find insight in my statement, and that it would lead you to respect the diversity of opinions and voices within our community.

1.   The Puerto Rican Day Parade is not honoring Oscar Lopez Rivera for his stand on the political status of Puerto Rico. They are honoring him because of his spirit of community, and sacrifice to the ideals of independence.

In my opinion, the parade’s officials and election committee have the right to do so. In the past, they have honored Grand Marshalls and other leaders that represented the political status of statehood or commonwealth of the Island.

There are those that have made arguments that the policies represented by the statehood and commonwealth parties have hurt Puerto Rico and its people. However, this has not deterred previous parades from honoring their respective leaders.

2.      Oscar Lopez Rivera was never convicted of a violent crime.

Anyone stating the above is misrepresenting the facts. He was convicted of the crime of sedition—a crime that Nelson Mandela was convicted of in his struggle to end Apartheid in South Africa.

It is also worth mentioning that the 6th Prime Minister of Israel— the revered Menachem Begin was once viewed to be a “terrorist” and a violent revolutionary while he was fighting for the establishment of the State of Israel. If we would have lost the American Revolutionary War, even our founding fathers would have been considered and/or viewed as terrorists by Great Britain.

Once more, I reiterate that Oscar Lopez Rivera was never convicted of a violent crime.

3.      The Puerto Rican community is one people with many voices.

We should honor their ability to share and/or raise their voices. While some may disagree with them, we can reach the level of respect that allows us to listen to diverse voices. We cannot be ahistorical, but rather, we must always remember that history is written from the perspective of the victor.

I share these thoughts because I prayed, worked, and advocated for the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera on the basis of a humanitarian principle. His sentence was disproportionate to the crime he was convicted of. Thirty-five- years in prison, 12 years in solitary confinement has led many to believe (including myself) that this sentence had more to do with his political beliefs rather than the crime he was convicted of. Former President Obama granted our request and commuted his sentence on January 17, 2017 which all political parties in Puerto Rico supported, and are grateful.

The National Puerto Rican Day Parade represents our maximum cultural expression in the Diaspora here in the United States of America. Let us continue to support it in all its diversity.

I also call on all the corporations who have economically withdrawn their support and have decided not to march or support the parade to reconsider their decision. If they do not reconsider their decision, they are not respecting our community, “one people with many voices.”

Rev. Dr. Raymond Rivera is the Senior Pastor at the Sanctuary Church, Inc. and President and Founder of the LPAC Latino Pastoral Action Center.

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