Here we go again. Yet another prominent member of Puerto Rico's PNP (Partido Nuevo Progresista) has uttered an offensive, racist remark, this time right in the middle of the Democratic National Convention. As Puerto Rican journalist Ada Alvarez reported on Twitter, Senator Lornna Soto referred to Puerto Rican Resident Commissioner Candidate Rafael Cox Alomar as "el monito" ("the monkey") at a DNC luncheon on Tuesday.
This story probably sounds familiar. That's because earlier this year, Zaida "Cucusa" Hernández, a former PNP elected official and political commentator, re-tweeted a photo of Cox Alomar that included the text "R.I.P. Yuyo," referring to a beloved 47-year-old chimpanzee in a zoo in Bayamón who had recently died. And all of us surely still remember Heidi Wys' vile Twitter rants against President Obama, which surfaced this summer.
As a Puerto Rican elected official in Nueva York, I am repeatedly shocked and disgusted each time another one of these stories breaks, and again exposes the deep-seated racism that abounds in Puerto Rican political and social discourse. On each of these occasions, I have felt compelled to denounce these statements publicly as a way of shaming some sense into our public leaders. The last thing I want is to shine the spotlight on those who reflect so negatively on our beautiful island and who we are as a people. But remaining silent would create a climate where racist expressions by prominent leaders are tolerated and where hatred is allowed to fester.
Senator Soto's remark, on the first day of the Democratic Convention, which is being referred to as "the most inclusive convention of all time," is particularly infuriating. Just a few hours before the Senator referred to Cox Alomar as "el monito," I said a few words at the Puerto Rican delegation breakfast, where she was in attendance. Stressing the core Democratic value of equality for all, I alluded to the racist remarks of recent months against political figures like President Obama and Cox Alomar and encouraged the delegation to openly embrace the African heritage that we as Puerto Ricans share. I guess the Senator didn't get the message.
Simply put: if Senator Soto cannot adhere to the principles of our party, she should not have a place at the convention. At the very least, we expect an immediate and genuine apology from the Senator. We as Puerto Ricans, whether stateside or on the island, expect better from delegates who are sent to represent us.
And speaking of values and principles, with the third instance of racist comments coming from leaders of the PNP in just about four months, it is time for the party to take a serious look at its own values and the message its members are sending to Puerto Ricans of African heritage.
Clearly, Senator Soto, Cucusa Hernández and Heidi Wys do not speak for the majority of Puerto Ricans, but their ignorance speaks volumes about the unfortunate racist undercurrents in a party whose leader was a featured speaker at last week's Republican National Convention.
Whether it's a tweet accessible to millions of potential users around the world, or a side conversation held at public event, those of us who occupy positions of influence must strive to exhibit and model the type of behavior we want to see in our society. Senator Soto should acknowledge the offensiveness of her comment and immediately issue an apology to Cox Alomar and to all Puerto Ricans.
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