November 18, 2014
First Lady Chirlane McCray: ¡Que viva la música Boricua!
I am so happy to be here. It is warm in here. Right? You’ve been having a good time. Bienvenidos a todos a Gracie Mansion. Esta es la casa del pueblo. Esta es su casa y siempre son bienvenidos aquí.
Can I have the little step there?
Mayor Bill de Blasio: Yeah. I’m sorry. You deserve your step.
First Lady Chirlane McCray: Thank you. That’s better. This is a beautiful audience.
All right, so, thank you all for being here this evening. I’m so glad you’ve had such a fabulous time. I want you to know that Bill and I have a special love for Puerto Rico.
And that’s because it’s the place that we first traveled to before we were married.
Mayor: Living in sin. [Laughter] Traveling in sin.
First Lady Chirlane McCray: Now –
Now, we didn’t have a lot of money but we wanted to see as much of the island as possible. So, we made reservations at the paradores. We rented a car and we made a big loop around the island from Luquillo, to Utuado, to Ponce, to San Juan.
And so, it worked out –
Mayor: It worked out.
First Lady Chirlane McCray: And now we go every year.
We were just there two weeks ago for the Somos el Futuro Conference and we didn’t get a chance to travel around much, but we always make a point to go to El Picoteo at El Convento. Es tan romántico. ¿Están de acuerdo? Sí, sí. And this last visit, we couldn’t leave the island without having some lechón from Guavate.
Now of course, Puerto Rican heritage is about more than food. It’s the reverence for family and tradition. It’s the pride in knowing that you’ve enriched our city and our world with great poets and writers like Julia de Burgos and Esmeralda Santiago, with great musicians like Aurora and Zon del Burrio – del Barrio – I’m sorry, Zon del Barrio – and with great minds like Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
And that’s why we’re all here today – to celebrate all of that and more.
Audience member: And Melissa!
First Lady Chirlane McCray: We’re saving her for last [Laughs]. Alright, so let’s keep the celebration going with my favorite salcero, our mayor, Bill de Blasio.
Mayor: Bienvenidos a todos. I want you to know, I think El Lechonera is a health food restaurant. I thought it was a very good choice. [Laughs]
I want to thank – is it la primera dama? La primera dama –
– la primera señora. ¿Dama? ¿Señora? How many say dama?
How many say señora?
Dama wins. La primera dama. Okay, I want to thank la primera dama because she does an amazing job, working every day to make this city a stronger, more inclusive place, and she represents so much that is good about this city, and she makes us proud. Let's thank Chirlane McCray.
It is wonderful to have you all here for Puerto Rican Heritage Month. It really is the people's house – Chirlane and I believe that deeply. It's our values that we want our friends, our colleagues, people who help every day to make this city great to come here and share this place with us. So you are welcome from the bottom of our hearts. And, I'm going to say it a day early, but I want to say it – Feliz Día del Descub – descru –
Mayor: Descubrimiento. [Laughter]
Descubrimiento. I know. Some people don't like it.
City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito: Not necessarily something you want to recognize –
Mayor: I know.
Speaker Mark-Viverito: All right. All right.
Mayor: It depends on your political views, or your sense of history.
Speaker Mark-Viverito: Descubrimiento.
Mayor: Descubrimiento. For those who like that, have a feliz one. [Laughs]
[Commotion dies down]
Chirlane talked about the depth of our connection to Puerto Rico, and it is really personal. It really is something that was a part of our coming together as a couple, was the time we spent there. And we remember it, when we're – the minute we touch down, the minute we arrive – we feel young again, we feel like –
You're implying things. [Laughs]
Okay, it's not all platonic, that's true. But – but Puerto Rico brings out so much that we love, and so much – so many good friends, so many people we've spent time there with, and it is, for us, so natural that in our own small way, we experience what so many people here experience – that sense of, there is a sixth borough, and it's a lot warmer [Laughter].
Unknown: The mainland!
Mayor: Now, in addition to lechón – I would go a long way for lechón –
– I would go a long way for that – but I had a great coffee experience this time too.
Mayor: I went to two places that really rang my bell. The Cuatros Hombres Coffee Shop in Old San Juan, and the Hacienda San Pedro Coffee Shop in Santurce. I am now going to start my coffee tour of Puerto Rico. This is my next new initiative. Anyone who wants to join along, you're welcome.
I want to thank everyone who helped to make this event happen. I particularly wanted to thank the Comité Noviembre for all they have done.
And it's been 27 years that they have helped this city to celebrate Puerto Rican culture – yes, you can say juepa to that.
Mayor: You're going to hear, in a few moments – there's a lot of VIPs tonight, there are a lot of people who have done great things for this city. They've been elected officials who have been here earlier – there are some people who used to be elected, did a lot for the city – thank you, Freddy Ferrer. Thank you.
So there's a lot of great people, but a special highlight, in a moment, will be to hear from someone who has achieved something in history by her role as speaker of the City Council – finally beginning to show what this city government can be when everyone is included. But it's also so important to recognize that her values have been quintessential to the achievements of this administration over these first ten months, because we had a real partner. We had someone who really believed in making this one city for everyone. And we could not have done so much of what we've done without Melissa Mark-Viverito, and I want to thank her for that.
So, this city – if you live in this city, you feel the Puerto Rican soul of this city. You learn important words like "boricua" and "nuyorican." And they're part of our everyday life, because you can't – there are some communities so profoundly important to our culture and to who we've become – this powerful, energetic, dynamic mixture that is New York City, and what it's been over the last 50 to 100 years that have made us what we are today, and the Puerto Rican community has been one of those building blocks, one of the foundation of who we are today. If you love this city – if you love this city and you love all that it brings to the world, then you have to love the Puerto Rican people, because they made it possible.
And, I would say – I will tell you, I’m equal opportunity, I say the same about my Italian heritage – because that’s another one of the building blocks of this great city.
And I say about it for Italian-Americans, and I think it’s true for Puerto Ricans who live here, that we have a debt of gratitude to where we come from. And we can express that in lots of ways – it’s good to travel back, it’s good to buy the products, it’s good to celebrate the heritage, it’s good to keep the language alive, and the poetry and the music – all of those are good and important things. It’s also good to contribute to change that can help the lands we love.
When we were in Puerto Rico a few weeks ago, we went to a part of San Juan that for me was a profound eye opener, in terms of some of the reality that people face. Caño Martín Peña – which, if this community was facing the challenges it was facing in New York state or Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, it would be on the front pages. But because it’s in San Juan, our federal government has not lived up to its obligations to 26,000 people who live in that community. And I want to thank Melissa again, for bringing a lot of us to see it so we could work together with her for change.
So, before I call up Melissa, let me just do a couple of things. One is – and it picks up on what Chirlane said – this whole notion of this sense of connection, the depth of connection. And we talk about it – and Chirlane mentioned the poets – we all mention Sonia Sotomayor, because she’s such a powerful example to us – not just of this culture, or of a New Yorker, or someone who made it from humble origins to the very top of the world – but it’s what she represents in her beliefs. It’s what she fought for and devoted her life to, and it won’t surprise you to know that Justice Sotomayor always kept a keen sense of heritage. And if you look at her memoir she includes a quote from the great Puerto Rican poet José Gautier Benítez. And the poem is "To Puerto Rico I Return." And Benítez said that even from far away, he remained “in love with the land where I was born,” and you feel that in Justice Sotomayor. That love is as present and deep as ever, no matter what robe she wears and where she sits in a position of power – her connection is so clear, and I know so many people in this room feel it too. It’s part of what makes us strong, is to keep that sense of connection and understand what it has done to enrich us all. So, Chirlane and I have our own personal version of it. [Laughter]
For so many of you, it’s through your family and your lives but it all adds up to the same thing. Puerto Rico encourages us, energizes us, gives us a foundation, gives us a hope, gives us a strength, and it is something that, now, really all New Yorkers benefit from. It’s something we are so profoundly proud of. I will finish with a few other words not in English.
Esta noche al honrar al Mes de la Herencia Puertoriqueña – okay, looking to my coach – Puertoriqueña, celebrámos un pasado vibrante y mirámos hacia un futuro aún más brillante.
And now, ladies and gentlemen – are you the portovoz? Portovoz. La portovoz del consejo – consejo municipal. La portovoz del consejo municipal de la cuidad de Nueva York, Melissa Mark-Viverito.