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  • 65th Infantry Veteran's ParkContested Landscapes and Latinization in Greater Orlando
  • Simone Delerme (bio)

The phone call about the park came one afternoon in February 2011. Michael, a retired resident of Buenaventura Lakes (bvl), a majority–Puerto Rican suburb twenty miles south of Disney World, was on the other line. He was calling to inform me that he was called a "racist" and "stupid" by our District 2 commissioner during the afternoon meeting. His call caught me off guard, and I wasn't sure how to respond, so I apologized sympathetically. But when we hung up the phone, I went online to stream the public footage of the weekly Osceola County commission meeting. One of the five county commissioners, John "Q" Quiñones, a native of Puerto Rico, introduced a proposal to revamp and re-name 33.6 acres of county property located in bvl—formerly the Walk-N-Stick Executive Golf Course—as the 65th Infantry Veteran's Park. Michael, a Vietnam veteran, objected to the park's name.

The 65th Infantry, known as "the Borinqueneers," was an all-volunteer U.S. Army regiment of Puerto Ricans that fought in World War I, World War II, and the Korean War. The U.S. Congress created the regiment in 1899, and the segregated unit is the only all-Latino regiment in the army's history. Quiñones hoped to honor the infantry, particularly since some of the Borinqueeners resided in bvl and other parts of Central Florida. In addition to re-naming the park and making improvements with a budget of approximately $400,000, the commissioner planned to erect a memorial in honor of the 65th.

When the general public was invited to comment on the resolution, Michael was the first to approach the podium and address the five county commissioners. Asserting that the 65th was "stationed or headquartered in Puerto Rico," which he called "another country," Michael went on to say that "As a Vietnam veteran, and one that spent a year in-country, I take that as a personal affront." Retired U.S. Army Col. Dennis Freytes interrupted Michael, shouting, "It's not another country!" The commissioners called for order so Michael could continue:

I think if you want to honor the service people there are more appropriate names . . . Yes, there were a lot of Puerto Ricans that died . . . but after that it was changed to where they basically are non-combat support role troops, so I [End Page 116] think it's time that somebody take a different view of this and pull it off and rename the park.

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It's been six years since the 65th Infantry memorial was erected, and it continues to be one of the most important symbols of Osceola County's Latinization and a significant political victory for some of the South's newest residents. Andres Vergara, right, salutes fellow members of the 65th Infantry regiment during a ceremony to honor them with the Congressional Gold Medal in Orlando, Florida, August 5, 2014, AP Photo/John Raoux.

Col. Freytes took the podium next and described his military record and community involvement before clarifying Puerto Rico's territorial status:

I've commanded infantry. I've commanded Special Forces. I've commanded airborne units, and I've commanded rotc . . . And our veterans, they don't fight for just one county. They fight for all Americans no matter what county they are, and Osceola County is part of America. Puerto Rico is not a separate country. Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory under the American flag! My father [End Page 117] fought in the 65th infantry regiment. My uncle Erasto Freytes fought in the 65th . . . I'm an American patriot, and I believe that this segment that hasn't been duly recognized should be recognized by this honorable commission.

After scattered applause, Commissioner Quiñones thanked the colonel for his service, mentioned the names of two bvl residents who served in the infantry, and acknowledged that many Americans remain ignorant about the island's territorial status. The commissioner observed that, over the past fifty years, the meaning of the Walk-N-Stick Executive Golf Course has...


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