The news of the death of South Bronx power broker Ramon S. Velez this past week left me a bit divided in my feelings. He was such a huge figure in stateside Puerto Rican politics, leaving behind a major institution he built in the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, that he is hard to ignore. However, the amnesia about how controversial he was by the likes of what were his mortal enemies at the time, such as Herman Badillo, Ed Koch, Juan Gonzalez, Wayne Barrett and others (are they all getting too sentimental in their old age?), took me aback.
Velez was genuinely proud of his Puerto Rican heritage and his homeland, Puerto Rico, but his legacy, represented in the sorry state of Puerto Rican politics in the South Bronx today, needs to be examined much more critically.
Whether you liked him or not, he had a major influence on the shape of Puerto Rican politics today, and his death, after battling Alzheimer's for so long, should be a time of reflection of the man and his impact on our community. While it is much easier to just say nice things about him now that he has passed away (and, hey, I got along with him fine), we owe our younger generations a more honest accounting of his legacy. Alzheimer's is a terrible disease for an individual and his or her family, but a self-inflicted social amnesia is worse for a whole community. I think Don Ramon would agree with me.
Angelo Falcón, president and founder
National Institute for Latino Policy (NiLP)
This article was originally published in the Latino Policy newsletter.