Last week I had the honor of joining a delegation of elected officials and leaders in the Latino LGBTQ community from Chicago and New York in a historic trip to Puerto Rico.
The purpose of the trip was to join in solidarity with the people in Puerto Rico after the tragic loss of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercadoa young gay man 19 years of age who was brutally murdered Nov. 13, 2009, in a hate crime triggered by homophobiaand to ensure that this crime is treated as a hate crime and to further call for the human rights of LGBTQ members on the island. The delegation also presented the family of Jorge a check for nearly $4,000 they raised from holding fundraisers in both cities as well as a hate-crimes resolution honoring Jorge that was introduced by Chicago Ald. Manny Flores. The delegation was led by four powerful Latina women, who I now hold dear to my heart: Illinois State Senator Iris Y. Martinez, D-Chicago; Illinois State Rep. Maria "Toni" Berrios, D-Chicago; New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn; and New York City Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito.
This being the first time I ever visited my family's homeland I was filled with a smorgasbord of emotions ranging from excitement and joy to fear and shame. Our first full day there began with a press conference held at the Colegio de Abogados, home to the Puerto Rico Bar Association. Pedro Julio Serrano, manager of communications of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in New York and founder of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s ( for All ) , New York, opened the conference by saying, "We hope this visit shows that the Puerto Rican LGBT community is not alone, and lets the family of Jorge Steven know that they are not alone either." "This is a historic trip, in which the solidarity from our brothers and sisters from New York City and Chicago will send a powerful message of love that conquers hate," Serrano said.
Illinois State Sen. and the Democratic National Committee's Hispanic Caucus Chairwoman Iris Martinez, said, "We need to raise awareness that these ( hate ) crimes are not acceptable. We cannot remain seated without taking action. We want a world of acceptance." Martinez added, "Any harm that you cause to any member of the LGBT community is as if you are doing it to me." "For me it is personal because they are family." State Rep. Toni Berrios echoed Martinez's statement and added, "We must move away from the word 'tolerance.' We must work towards acceptance of LGBT people."
After the press conference we all went to lunch at one of the best little restaurants in Puerto Rico, La Casita Blanca ( the little white house ) , before heading of to the Capitol Building to meet with lawmakers and local LGBT organizations and activists. La Casita Blanca was like going to my grandmother's house for lunch. The food was as traditional as you can get. If you ever go to the island, La Casita Blanca is a must-do.
Now that everyone is in a food coma we leave to the Capital Building in San Juan. There we accompanied Sen. Martinez as she received an award of recognition for the Puerto Rican Senate. This was a proud moment for the Chicago delegation. Afterwards we were escorted to another building were the delegation had a meeting with senators and representatives from the legislative assembly to discuss our concerns regarding the matters of hate crimes and the lack of the lawmakers' intervention. "The governor is not responding appropriately at all to the murder," Quinn said prior to the trip. "And the Senate president made outrageous comments about the victim. We would hope to see an apology. And we want to send a message to the governor to do the right thing." This was productive and well-attended, and received a significant amount of media attention.
The next stop was to meet with the family of Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado back at the Colegio de Abogados. When we arrived we were told the meeting was postponed because the mother was not ready to meet with the delegation and may not have to strength the meet with us. When I heard that feeling of guilt and shame came over me. I asked myself, who are we really doing for? I felt as even though the intention of this delegation was good the impact was the total opposite. Were we re-traumatizing Jorge's mother? Here is a woman whose eldest child was brutal murdered for living true to his self and is now having to see the trail of your son's murderer played out on international television day after day. Now she is expected to meeting a large delegation of elected official and LGBTQ leaders who she has never heard of until after the death of her child. I know, this is all my own stuff. Well needless to say she still mustered up the strength to meet us at a restaurant in Old San Juan later that evening.
That evening was when the family entered the restaurant everyone lined up so show their respect and offer their condolences to the family. As I waited in line for my turn to speak with the family I looked over at the father Jorge Lopez and I saw this look on his face as he watch his wife. He had this look and his face as if he was thinking to his self I have not seen my wife smile like that so my son died. That's when I lost it. My tears let loose. I stepped out of line and could not bring myself to talk to the family.
The Lopez Mercado Lopez familyincluding his father Jorge Lopez, mother Myriam Mercado and 9-year-old brother Gabriel Lopezwas presented with the resolution pass by the City of Chicago and a donation check. After a while and was everyone had settled down to eat dinner Myriam Mercado stood up to address the delegation. She expressed how the family appreciation for coming all the way Puerto Rico to show support for her son and all children. She told us that we had given the family hope in the most difficult moment of there life as a Family. Once she began speaking, the build-up of everyone's emotions of the day exploded. There was not a dry eye in the house. Even the restaurant staff and other patrons were brought to tears. I cried as if I just lost a close family member. My handkerchief was literally soaking wet.
Mrs. Mercado told the group that her son was loved and knew he was loved, and she made the point that all children should be loved, regardless of who they are. Mrs. Mercado ended by say "…with your support, we have been able to send a clear and powerful message to the world of the love that conquers hate."
I am grateful to have been part of this trip and I thank all those responsible for making this day possible.
Now it was time for me to continue my personal journey to Puerto Rico. I went to Puerto Rico for another as well. I was going to see my father for the first time in over 30 years. To read part two of my journey to my homeland, visit my blog at thework-in.blogspot.com Jan. 28.
Here is a list of the history-making delegation:
Iris Y. Martinez - State Senator, 20th District
Maria "Toni" Berrios - State Representative, 39th District
Rubén D. Feliciano - Boricua PRIDE Co-founder, ALMA Board Member, ASPIRA Inc of Illinois Board Member
Jorge Felix - Boricua PRIDE Member
Nilsa Irizarry - Orgullo en Accion
Edward Negron - Orgullo en Accion
Juan Calderon - Vida/SIDA, Puerto Rican Cultural Center
Ricardo Jiménez - Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Vida/SIDA
Jorge Cestou - UNID@S Board Member, ALMA Board Member
New York delegation:
NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn
NYC Councilmember Melissa Mark-Viverito
NYC Councilmember Rosie Mendez
NYC Councilmember Danny Dromm
NYC Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer
IGLHRC Executive Director Cary Alan Johnson
Latino Commission on AIDS President Guillermo Chacon
Latino Commission on AIDS Adviser Karlo Colon
Puerto Rico delegation:
Hector Ferrer - Popular Democratic Party President | Minority Leader, House of Representatives
Carmen Yulin Cruz - Representative Popular Democratic Party
Members of the delegation of the Popular Democratic Party House & Senate
Albita Rivera - Representative - New Progressive Party
Rogelio Figueroa - President - Puerto Ricans for Puerto Rico Party
Maria de Lourdes Santiago - former Senator - Puerto Rican Independence Party
Talin Ramos - Corporacion Orgullo Gay del Oeste
Ada Conde - Fundacion de Derechos Humanos & Commission Against Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Ivonne Alvarez - Fundacion de Derechos Humanos
Pedro Julio Serrano - Puerto Rico Para Tod@s | National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
Olga Orraca - Coalicion Orgullo Arcoiris
Pedro Peters Maldonado - Stonewall Democrats
Jaime Santana - Tanama
Osvaldo Burgos - Amnistia Internacional
Ericka Florenciani - Puerto Rico Para Tod@s
Roberto Pastrana - Puerto Rico Para Tod@s
Nahomi Galindo - Puerto Rico Para Tod@s
Jose Garcia - Comite contra la Homofobia y el Discrimen
Sahir Pujols - Comite contra la Homofobia y el Discrimen
Jose F. Colon - Pacientes de sida pro politica sana
Anselmo Fonseca - Pacientes de sida pro politica sana
Angel Antonio Ruiz - Colectivo Literario Homoerotica
Liza Gallardo - Taller Lesbico Creativo
Jose Joaquin Mulinelli - Coai
Peter Shepard - Coai
Ricardo Alfonso - LGBT activist
Pablo Navarro - MCC Cristo Sanador
Manuel Guzman - Iglesia Cristo Senda de Restauracion
Sol Gomila - Coalicion Orgullo Arcoiris
Carmen Oquendo Villar - Documentalist | LGBT activist
Civic and religious leaders:
Obispo David Alvarez ( Iglesia Episcopal )
Obispo Juan Vera ( Iglesia Metodista )
Carmen Villanueva ( Comunidades especiales )
Jose Rodriguez ( Comite Dominicano de Derechos Humanos )
Ana Irma Rivera Lassen ( CLADEM PR )
Amarilis Pagan ( Movimiento Amplio de Mujeres )
Palmira Rios ( Comision de Derechos Civiles )
William Ramirez ( ACLU - PR )
Irma Lugo ( Amnistia Internacional )
Jimmy Torres ( SEIU )
Milagros Colon ( Colegio Trabajadores Sociales )
David Perez Jimenez ( Asociacion de Psicologia )