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Springfield celebrates Puerto Rican heritage

 The 32 annual Puerto Rican flag raising ceremony to celebrate Puerto Rican Heritage month was held on  November 1st, 2021 in  front of Springfield City Hall
Paul Tuthill
The 32 annual Puerto Rican flag raising ceremony to celebrate Puerto Rican Heritage month was held on November 1st, 2021 in front of Springfield City Hall

Puerto Rican-owned businesses honored at City Hall event

The largest city in western Massachusetts is honoring a segment of its fastest growing population with a kickoff to Puerto Rican Heritage month.

Springfield’s population grew by 2 percent during the previous decade according to the 2020 Census thanks to a large influx of Hispanics and Latinos, who now account for 45 percent of the city’s 156,000 residents.

At a ceremony Monday, the Puerto Rican flag was raised in front of City Hall and Mayor Domenic Sarno issued a proclamation.

“It marks an important time as Latinos continue to move up the ladder here in the city of Springfield and western Massachusetts,” Sarno said.

He pointed to City Hall, where City Clerk and Election Commissioner Gladys Oyola-Lopez recently became the first Latina member of the mayor’s cabinet.

Sarno said small and medium-sized Latino-owned businesses are a “tremendous asset” to the city.

Three of the members of Springfield’s state legislative delegation are Puerto Rican. State Senator Adam Gomez of Springfield is the first Puerto Rican ever elected to the Senate.

“It is definitely special within the Puerto Rican community to have somebody that was elected from this great city of Springfield especially with Puerto Ricans making up a huge number of people who live here in Springfield and have since the 1950s,” Gomez said.

He said Springfield has always been a melting pot of different cultures.

“ Everyone started in the North End someway somehow and now that the Puerto Rican community has grown and moved to different areas in the city of Springfield, we see other Latinos like the Guatemalans, the Domenicans and others from Central America that have made this place home,” Gomez said

At the ceremony, Gomez presented citations from the State Senate to five Puerto Rican-owned businesses in Springfield that remained open last year in order to serve the community during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jose Medina is president of Medina’s Supermarket, a fixture on Main Street in Springfield’s North End. His late father Ismael started the business in the 1980s as a small bodega.

“He just expanded on the same idea – catering to the Hispanic community, their foods, their needs, their wants and moved forward from there,” Medina said.

Another honoree at the ceremony actually launched the business in 2020. Chris Joel is co-owner of The Hub, a collaborative space in downtown Springfield for creative professionals.

“The diverse community is the key to our success,” Joel said.

This was the 32nd annual Puerto Rican flag-raising ceremony in Springfield. The Puerto Rican Day Parade has been canceled two years in a row because of the pandemic.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.