The Orlando Magic face the Cleveland Cavaliers in game 6 of the NBA playoffs tonight in Orlando, and their winning streak couldn't come at a better time.
Next year, the basketball organization opens a new $480 million events center in Orlando, and they have to fill those seats. Everybody loves a winning team, and fans may be more willing to fork over hard-earned money for season tickets than ever before.
The Magic organization is banking on it, based on a clever piece of marketing that arrived in my home recently. It's an 8-inch by 12-inch plastic "postcard" that must have cost a pretty penny to mail, given its unusual size. Magic center Dwight Howard grimaces as he goes to shoot the ball, hovering like a 50 foot giant over a rendering of the new arena.
"Be there," it states next to a Magic swoosh. "The New Orlando Events Center Opening 2010." The flip side hustles special season ticket sections starting at $13 for upper bowl seats. If you hurry, you may win an autographed Dwight Howard ball.
The Magic organization can't take any chances when it comes to the new events center, which barely got a thumbs up from Central Floridians. It's been a highly contentious project from the start. A big chunk of Orlando residents were against the investment of any public funds in the arena, be it in the form of tax breaks, revenue bonds or any other financial vehicle, if the Magic organization didn't put up more of its own cash. Many people do not perceive the Magic organization as a good corporate citizen of Central Florida.
Of course, the dissidents lost. The city and county believe the new events center is critical to the revival of downtown Orlando, plus they are salivating over potential sales tax revenues and more at a time when revenue is hard to come by. (The city of Orlando is making noises about laying off more than 300 people, including some police and firefighters.) Officials sold the new center as part of a package that includes a new performing arts center; otherwise, it was going down. As a result, the new arena is going up in downtown Orlando even as I write.
Hard feelings between Orlando and the team go way back. Orlando soured on the team after a series of setbacks dating to the 1990s: Shaq left, Grant Hill hobbled onto the team and never got his groove and there were many embarrassing losing seasons. Absent the current hot streak, the Magic couldn't count on Orlando to come out for the team--new sports venue or not.
In previous years, the arena has been sadly empty. And even when Orlandoans did show up, they weren't necessarily rooting for the Magic. Because most Floridans come from someplace else, fans could just as well be cheering the opposing team. Florida is funny that way.
But whether by serendipity or by design, this year's winning season comes just in the nick of time. It certainly will help fill lots of seats, and I'll bet that ticket holders very likely will be Magic fans come the opening of the new events center in 2010. Go Magic!
Photo credits: NBA.com, Orlando Magic photo gallery; orlandomagic.com, new venue.
Father Alberto Cutié of Miami left the Catholic Church this week and joined the Episcopalian denomination, following the uproar about his relationship with girlfriend Ruhama Buni Canellis, shown in photo.
Like England's King Edward VIII, who gave up the throne to marry American divorcee Wallis Simpson in 1936, Cutié has left the Catholic Church for the woman he loves.
His feelings toward the woman must have been very strong to propel him to leave the church he dedicated his life to since entering the seminary at age 18. Still, I wonder whether he will have doubts and regrets about what might have been. Father Cutié was a bright star in the Catholic constellation.
King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson became known as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; they lived out their long lives as aimless wealthy dilettantes. The Duke had vacant eyes and a rather sad look about him captured in many photographs.
I'm not saying this the fate that awaits Father Cutié, but it's hard to walk away from the life you have prepared for to assume another. It's hard to leave a religion you've known all your life and join another without having doubts and regrets. Religions are not interchangeable. Being the Duke and being the King are two different things.
Father Cutié may want to marry, which is non-negotiable for a Catholic priest but a clear possibility for an Episcopalian one. However, I'm not sure he's bargaining on the other stuff. The Episcopal Church is far more to the left of the Catholic Church.
Woman can be ordained in the Episcopal Church--not that there's anything wrong with that. There are also groups that have caused upheaval within the Episcopal Church over the ordination of gays. How Father Cutié will fit in with his new family remains to be seen.
He will very likely marry his girlfriend, although he has not said so publicly. Otherwise, what is the point of leaving the Catholic Church?
But he may find that this change in religion carries more significance than the switch from a black cassock to a purple one.
Photo credit: Associated Press photo of Father Cutié and his girlfriend Ruhama Buni Canellis as they are welcomed into the Episcopal Church. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor.
Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court may do wonders to change the image of New York Ricans.
When I moved to Puerto Rico from New York as a teen in 1972, the term New York Rican was just catching on. It was spelled many different ways: Neorican, which I kind of like because it means New Puerto Rican; Nuyorican, from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe co-started by Miguel Algarin, under whom I learned Shakespeare at Rutgers University; or New York Rican.
Whichever way you spell it, I never wanted it applied to me. The term was dismissive, as in "You're not really Puerto Rican. You come from someplace else. You are not like us." That hurt.
Many stateside-born Puerto Ricans spoke little or no Spanish. If we did speak Spanish, more often than not it was broken Spanish. We had an urban sensibility versus a suburban one, which is prevalent in Puerto Rico. We were more aggressive, as people in the states tend to be. We wore torn up jeans when nobody else did. The girls wore shorts when it was considered indecent to wear shorts to sit on your own front porch. We were delinquents, or so they said. We stood out.
It was a confusing time. If I'm not Puerto Rican, then what am I? Gradually, over time, that feeling wore off as my Spanish improved. I graduated from high school in Puerto Rico, eventually married and gave birth to my daughter there. I acculturated and became more like an island Pueto Rican.
I thought this was behind me--until I reached Orlando, a city rare among places where Puerto Ricans have migrated. In Orlando, you find Puerto Ricans from the island who may or may not have lived in the states before, and Puerto Ricans from the states, who may or may not be familiar with the island, who may or may not speak Spanish.
There was a cultural divide, and so I did what any other good journalist would do: I wrote about it. 'Pa qué fue eso?
It unleashed a furor among some folks who didn't want our laundry aired in public. I was pilloried on Spanish-language radio, particularly on the Quédate con Miguel show when Don Miguel himself was still alive. He characterized Puerto Ricans from the island de pura cepa. So where did that leave the rest of us?
I boiled it down to this: Island Puerto Ricans look at stateside Puerto Ricans and see what they may become or what their children may become, and they don't like it. Stateside Puerto Ricans look at island Puerto Ricans and see the generation gap with their parents or grandparents.
None of this should matter in Orlando, or any other city, because we all want the same things: decent housing, good schools, a well-paying job. The outside world doesn't care about these petty differences. And neither should we.
Then along comes Sonia Sotomayor, a New York Rican from El Bronx, who never lived in Puerto Rico and never went to school there, who probably doesn't speak perfect Spanish, probably can't tell Aibonito from Aguada or Manatí from Maunabo. Still, Sotomayor is a person of which we can all be proud. She's going to recalibrate things.
She exemplifies the street smarts, the potential and the gritty determination New York Ricans always had--and few people saw. Sure, there have been many successful New York Ricans, but the U.S. Supreme Court is big. Really big.
And so I say; Thanks, Sonia Sotomayor, for helping to close the cultural divide.
Photo credit: A flag flies in Brooklyn. New York City Department of Public Planning.
WEPA! That's my reaction to the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court. She's a kid from El Bronx who made good.
This is a day of pride for all Latinos, regardless of nationality, to see the first Hispanic nominated to the court. Hopefully, she will banish the memory of Alberto Gonzales, who disgraced himself before the country during the Bush Administration.
But it's an especially poignant day for Puerto Ricans and New York Ricans. Sotomayor's career and court appointment validate the trials and travails of many Puerto Ricans who migrated (not immigrated) to the states and raised their stateside-born children under difficult economic circumstances and in often hostile environments.
Nearly every Puerto Rican from New York shares this legacy: terrible schools, drug- and crime-infested communities, poor housing. But there was always a steely will, a flower pushing up from the concrete. And all the Latinos who remain in the city, be they Dominican, Mexican or Central American, can claim it too.
Despite the death of her father, and life in a federal housing project, Sotomayor and her family persevered. There are thousands of Puerto Rican stories like that in the Naked City. (I myself was born in New York and lived in a federal housing project. Unlike Sotomayor, my family returned to the island, and I had the privilege of living in Puerto Rico two separate times for a total of 12 years.)
As I told my college daughter, Sotomayor's trajectory is proof positive that where you come from doesn't have to determine where you are going. And as important, it doesn't have to determine who you are. Being poor is not an excuse for not aiming high!
Already we see that the personal is political. Sotomayor's rags-to-robes story--I stole that line from a reader who left a comment. Thanks!--will play a big role in the confirmation process. That's how it's done nowadays. A judge who will live and work largely hidden from public view still has to appeal to regular folks.
The pícara in me cannot help but take note of the fact that Puerto Ricans may get a vote on the U.S. Supreme Court, but puertorriqueños on the island cannot vote for U.S. president. Hmmm. I'm sure her nomination will generate lots of discussion and reflection about that.
But today, my heart is filled with gladness and gratitude for living in this wonderful country with all its flaws. A girl born in El Bronx can walk the corridors of one of the highest offices in the land. Here comes the judge!
Photo credit: White House Press Briefing Room. Sonia Sotomayor with her mother Celina Sotomayor. A photo taken as a child. What Puerto Rican kid raised in New York during the 60s doesn't have a party photo like that?
I come from a family with lots of veterans, and I'd venture to say that many other Latinos do, too. That's because Latinos tend to look to the Armed Forces as an opportunity or a way out of difficult circumstances.
• My father was drafted into the Army during World War II, serving as a radio operator.
• My stepfather served in the Air Force during the Korean War.
• My oldest brother joined the Army and is a Persian Gulf War veteran. He spent nearly 15 years in the service.
• A brother-in-law volunteered in the Navy and spent nearly 25 years serving his country.
• Another brother-in-law, also a Navy man, is a veteran of the Iraq War, where he was injured.
As of February 2008, about 11 percent of all military personnel--or more than 142,000 soldiers--is Latino, according to a study by the Migration Policy Institute. For the Navy, the figure is 13.9 percent or 45,551; for the Marines, 12.6 percent (23,813); for the Army, 10.8 percent (56,078); and for the Air Force, 5.2 percent (16,876.
Amazingly, 12 percent of enlisted women are Hispanic, slightly higher than for Latino men, according to the Population Reference Bureau, a think tank on population issues. Latinas also are a higher percentage of commissioned officers--5.3 percent--vs. 4.8 percent for Hispanic men.
Latinos have served in the U.S. military since very early on, but the first significant numbers were recorded during the Civil War, according to
a 2002 article "America's Hispanics in America's Wars," published in Army Magazine.
The numbers are impressive:
• About 10,000 Hispanics, mostly Mexican-Americans, fought during the Civil War.
• During World War I, 200,000 Hispanics were mobilized, and again most were Mexican-Americans. About 18,000 Puerto Ricans served in the island’s six segregated infantry regiments, guarding key installations in Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal zone. Bear in mind that the United States took over Puerto Rico in 1898, and islanders became citizens in 1917--which makes the showing fairly strong.
• 500,000 Latinos served during World War II, including 350,000 Puerto Ricans who registered for military service. Of those, only 65,000 were called up, and most served in segregated units, like the Regular Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment (a famous island regiment) or the Puerto Rican National Guard’s 295th and 296th Infantry Regiments in Puerto Rico, Panama, the Caribbean, Hawaii, North Africa, Italy, the Maritime Alps of France and Germany. Latino soldiers won 12 or 3 percent of the 440 Medals of Honor awarded during the war.
• The Korean War witnessed the service of 148,000 Latinos, including 61,000 Puerto Ricans from the island and the states. At the war's start, about 20,000 Puerto Ricans were serving in the U.S. military, the majority in the Army and Marines. Puerto Rico's famed 65th Infantry (65 de Infantería, known as Borinqueneers) had more than 4,000 soldiers.They arrived in Korea in September 1950, the largest U.S. Infantry regiment on the American side. "It fought in every major campaign of the war thereafter," according to the magazine. The 65th Infantry won 9 Distinguished Service Crosses, 250 Silver Stars and more than 500 Bronze Stars in three years of fighting, killing almost 6,000 communist soldiers and capturing another 2,000. The 65th Infantry was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, a Meritorious Unit Commendation, two Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citations and the Gold Bravery Medal of Greece. In the Korean War, one of every 42 casualties was Puerto Rican, according to Army Magazine. This is one reason Puerto Ricans say they pay a "blood tax."
• 80,000 Latinos fought in the Vietnam War. They earned 13 of the 239 Medals of Honor awarded or 5.4 percent of the total.
• 20,000 Latinos took part in Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm(1990-1991), including 1,700 Puerto Rico National Guardsmen.
Today, 5 percent or 65,280 foreign born are active duty personnel. Of these, 41 percent are in the Navy, 23 percent in the Army, 21 percent in the Air Force and nearly 16 percent in the Marines. The top countries represented are The Philippines, Mexico, Jamaica, Korea and the Dominican Republic, states the Migration Institute.
The next time you hear someone disparage Latinos in general or Hispanic military service in particular, forward them this article.