Around the UFT

National Puerto Rican Day Parade

Joy and resolve

Members with signs in support of public education and educators in Puerto Rico sMiller PhotographyMembers with signs in support of public education and educators in Puerto Rico surround the UFT float.

Paraprofessional Abram Jemmott of PS 9 in Queens feels inspired as he joins UFT Miller PhotographyParaprofessional Abram Jemmott of PS 9 in Queens feels inspired as he joins UFT members at the parade. It’s a tradition for many UFT members to join the National Puerto Rican Day Parade to celebrate their heritage but the devastation by Hurricane Maria in September gave this year’s celebration on June 10 added significance. More than 4,500 deaths have been linked to the hurricane and its aftermath, and many people on the island still lack electricity and other basic resources. Advocacy for the beleaguered people of Puerto Rico was a big part of the parade’s message. “This year the parade was very important after the natural disaster,” said Evelyn Ortiz, the chapter leader at PS 159 in the Bronx. “The island didn’t receive enough help, and we need to increase attention to that. Puerto Ricans are American citizens.” Ortiz was part of the UFT contingent led by Vice President Evelyn DeJesus, who has visited the island several times since the disaster as part of Operation Agua, an initiative spearheaded by the AFT to deliver water purifiers to schools, homes and businesses in Puerto Rico. “This is an ongoing crisis for Puerto Rico,” DeJesus said. “Our joy in celebrating our heritage is matched by our resolve to make sure the people of Puerto Rico are not forgotten.” Aida Diaz, the president of the Puerto Rico Teachers Association, marched with the UFT contingent. Miriam Quiles, a teacher of English as a new language at PS 160 in Brooklyn, was named the parade’s Teacher of the Year. “It was exciting just to be among everybody after everything that’s gone on,” said Quiles. She said her cousins in the small town of Maunabo, which got hit very hard by the hurricane, are still without electricity. Quiles said for her the highlight of the parade occurred before the event, when she participated in the interviews of scholarship applicants. The parade awarded 100 scholarships to exceptional high school seniors and college students of Puerto Rican descent, who each received $2,000. “We had more than 300 applicants from around the country, including Puerto Rico,” she said.

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