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Sculpture Is Imperfect, Perhaps, But Still Important

Helen Ubiñas

September 24, 2009

It's easy to see the flaws of the Monument to the Puerto Rican Family.

Critics have slammed the sculpture, unveiled at the Learning Corridor on Wednesday, as conservative and stereotypical.

And, indeed, the 10-foot-high monument, anchored by a towering nuclear family, doesn't represent the single mothers and grandmothers who head so many of Hartford's households. Not to mention families led by gay and lesbian couples.

"I know from many years of studying and making public art that monuments like this can have a strong effect on people," Pablo Delano, a Puerto Rican art professor and vocal critic of the piece, said when I called him after the dedication ceremony.

"What I fear is that it will create an inferiority complex in children whose families don't look like the one depicted in the monument."

It's an absolutely valid point — especially given the location of the monument.

But watching the enthusiastic crowd gathered for the long-awaited dedication, I realized that for many, the moment went beyond the monument's literal depiction.

There in the front row was photographer Juan Fuentes-Vizcarrondo, who has spent a lifetime capturing the Puerto Rican experience in Hartford.

In the crowd was city council President Calixto Torres and longtime educator Edwin Vargas, two of the city's first bilingual teachers.

Nearby was Carmen Rodriguez, onetime director of La Casa de Puerto Rico and a former president of the Hartford Board of Education, who has long dedicated herself to issues of importance to the Puerto Rican community.

And standing way in the back, listening intently to speakers bubbling over with pride, was Juan Rodriguez.

A firefighter for 30 years, Rodriguez told me he was one of 14 Puerto Rican firefighters hired after the tragic death of 12-year-old Julio Lozada. In 1979, Lozada died because of a language barrier between neighborhood residents and emergency workers who didn't understand that the boy was trapped underneath a collapsed garage. Afterward, the city aggressively began to recruit bilingual first-responders.

"That monument represents a lot of struggle, a lot of history," Rodriguez said. "I'm very proud of it and of all the accomplishments of Puerto Ricans in this city."

And so for Rodriguez and so many others who crowded into the Washington Street courtyard, the monument by José Buscaglia-Guillermety spoke to much more than simply one artist's depiction of family — limited as it appears to some.

It spoke to years of hard work, achievement and progress — too often hard and tragically won.

Progress evident even in the debate over what the notion of family actually means.

It's a good discussion to have, and it's important for us to continue to expect more — even in a piece of art.

But as I listened to people talk about the pioneers who paved the way for so many in the city — legendary Puerto Rican leaders Maria Sanchez and Mildred Torres-Soto, to name a few — I realized that it's also important — necessary, even — to pause for a moment and appreciate how far a community, a people, have come.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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