EAST ORANGE, NJ — East Orange Mayor Lester Taylor and City Council joined forces with Miryam Torres of the Hispanics for Progress of Essex County for a Pan American flag-raising ceremony in front of City Hall in City Hall Plaza on Friday, Sept. 22, in honor of national Hispanic Heritage Month.
Taylor was unable to attend the event but Recreation Department and Cultural Affairs Director Osner Charles filled in for him and accepted the handwoven hat Torres presented for the mayor, in gratitude for allowing the ceremony to take place. Charles responded in kind by presenting Community Service and Appreciation Awards to Torres; Cristina Mateo, a former Orange Board of Education president and current president of Hispanos Mano a Mano resident; Lt. Orlando Soto, public relations coordinator for Hispanics for Progress of Essex County; Army Reserve Lt. Veronica Mendez and Gregorio Leon.
“It’s not being reported enough, in view of what’s happening in the Dominican Republic right now to the natural disasters that have been happening, hurricane after hurricane,” said Charles on Friday, Sept. 22. “So I definitely want to tell everyone that’s sitting here, as a Haitian-American that shares the island of Hispaniola and migrated here to the United States, that we stand with you guys and we support everything that you guys are doing and everything that you guys are going through. I just learned this phrase in Spanish that I would like for everybody to say with me and raise your fist in the air: ‘Somos una familia.’”
That means “We are one family” in Spanish. And Charles’ sentiments seemed to encompass the overall mood of the flag-raising event.
“Another thing I want to talk about is (President Donald Trump), who just happens to live in Washington, D.C., at this time. Right now, he’s putting laws and things together. The DACA, which is the Dreamers Act,” said Charles. “I find it very disheartening in the great city of East Orange, where we’re populated by a number of immigrants. We are predominantly a Caribbean population and it is disheartening when I see young Hispanic people who give up their lives to fight for this country to hear that they have to be sent back home. So I stand here before you guys in support.”
West Orange Deputy Mayor Rodolfo Rodriguez was a guest of honor at the event, along with 2nd Ward Councilwoman Jacqueline Johnson and Council Vice Chairman Romal Bullock; 4th Ward Councilman Casim Gomez also participated in the event.
“I wasn’t anticipating speaking, but I do have something in my heart,” said Gomez, a Cuban-American who is the city’s first-ever Latino councilman, on Friday, Sept. 22. “Just to reiterate what my colleagues stated about the current state of this country and how divided it is and it’s very, very upsetting. I’m just proud to be part of this occasion and many of the other occasions that we have that celebrate inclusion and culture and everybody’s culture.”
Gomez said he “thinks it’s important that we realize that we are a nation of many, many different cultures and mixing those cultures together is how we get America.”
“So I do support the ‘Dreamers,’” said Gomez. “I’m against what (Trump) is doing. And I think we need to build more bridges and less walls.”
Rodriguez said he was proud and honored to have been invited to participate in the East Orange flag-raising event. On Monday, Sept. 25, he and West Orange Mayor Robert Parisi hosted their own flag-raising event and celebration in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
“I want to say ‘Thank You’ to the City Council and the Mayor’s Office for their support to the Hispanic community. This is wonderful that everyone stands together,” said Rodriguez. “In the world, we have 232 countries and the (United Nations) has 196 and I believe that we’ve got them all here in the United States. Everybody’s here, meaning that we are a very diverse culture. We all have to learn to stand together.”
Torres also attended the West Orange event, which Mateo described as beautiful and full of people.