Today, the U.S. Army is known as one of the more meritocratic institutions of the U.S. Government, but that was not always the case. In past U.S. wars, there were segregated military units, such as the Navajo Code Talkers, and African-American units who fought valiantly alongside other American soldiers, but were discriminated against and largely forgotten by history books. Fortunately, many of these units who are often overlooked are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. One of these is the 65th Infantry Regiment of Puerto Rico, also known as the Borinqueneers, who are set to be the awarded with the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by Congress. The House passed H.R. 1726 titled To award a Congressional Gold Medal to the 65th Infantry Regiment, known as the Borinqueneers last week, and with 301 cosponsors, it is perhaps one of the more popular legislation in the chamber to have passed this year. It also passed in the Senate with unanimous consent. If the bill is signed into law by President Barack Obama, it would make the unit the only Hispanics, other than the Puerto Rican baseball start Robert Clemente, to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.
The unit was named after Borinquen, the Talno name for Puerto Rico. The history of the unit dates back to World War I, but it was not until World War II and the Korean War where the unit stood out for their valiant actions. Solla Alvarez, a surviving service member of the unit, recounted his battle experience to Fox New Latino on fighting in the Korean War.
“It was a furious battle, one with many deaths,” he said, “but we all knew it was a very important mission since it was strategic place for the United States and the future of our families back home.” While the unit was praised by legendary military figures such as General Douglas MacArthur, they were subject to discrimination from fellow soldiers, and in some cases, did not receive the same benefits once they returned home.
No one was more excited about the passing of the bill than Frank Medina, National Chair of the Borinqueneers Congressional Medal Alliance. For many years, Medina had been advocating for the recognition of the unit his grandfather famously served in. In an interview, Medina drew a comparison between the Latino unit and the current debate about letting DREAMers gain U.S. citizenship by joining the Armed Forces.
“Our nation should embrace the DREAMers and anyone who wants to be part of the Armed Force, just like the Borinqueneers. They (Borinqueneers) surpassed and went beyond the negative expectations people have of them.”
The bill directs the Medal to be given to the Smithsonian Institution where it will be displayed. It also mentions that the medal, at appropriate times, should be displayed in places connected to the 65th Infantry Regiment, which includes locations in Puerto Rico.
Carlos Vera is a Staff Writer at Latino Giant. Originally from Colombia, Carlos grew up in Southern California and has served in the Army Reserves since 2011. He is a junior at American University, pursuing a degree in Political Science. He is currently studying abroad in Brussels where is he is a Legislative Intern at the European Parliament. He is passionate about the intersection between policy, advocacy and community development as it pertains to Latinos in United States.