February 4, 2018

Cornell and Ithaca Communities Rally for Federal Support of Puerto Rico

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At a rally featuring the live-streamed speeches of Governors Ricardo Rosselló (PNP-Puerto Rico) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Cornell students and members of the Ithaca community voiced their support for Puerto Rico and demanded federal action be taken to help the U.S. territory.

The rally took place Saturday morning at the Biotechnology building. Similar rallies to Cornell’s took place at five other locations across New York State the same day.

Participants at the rally listened to the governors’ speeches and to Cornell leaders involved in the Puerto Rican recovery effort. At one point during his speech, Cuomo mentioned Cornell, which was followed by boisterous applause from the audience.

“We have a rally at Cornell University where all the students are gathering in unity with Puerto Rico,” the governor said.

Cuomo also addressed Rosselló specifically in his address, and described the empathy that New Yorkers have for Puerto Rico.

“Governor, I hope you know, as the congressman said, that your pain is our pain,” Cuomo said. “The Puerto Rican community in New York shed tears right along with the people in Puerto Rico. And it wasn’t just the Puerto Rican community in New York because when you are a New Yorker, the association, the relationship with the Puerto Rican community can’t be any closer.”

In an address to the Cornell and Ithaca audience, Chris Arce ’19, co-president of the Puerto Rican Student Association, praised the efforts of New Yorkers to aid Puerto Ricans.

“It’s been inspiring to see the response of New Yorkers across the state, especially here on campus,” Arce said. “Puerto Rico’s absolutely better off today because of your support. Immediately after the hurricane, I saw Governor Cuomo and many New York State leaders immediately mobilize and respond, send generators to the island and try to help many of the hospitals that were hit quite hard.”

Arce also talked about the importance of securing federal assistance for Puerto Rico.

“Congress has dragged its feet with getting Puerto Rico equitable funding under the Medicaid program which Puerto Rico pays into equally, and that’s had a major consequence for the island,” Arce said.

Cuomo echoed this notion, saying he was “proud” of New York State’s work but “ashamed” about how the United States has acted.

“Puerto Rico deserved better than this country has responded,” he said. “Governor, I want you to know that what this federal administration has done does not represent the feelings of the American people.”

Lourdes Zapata, executive vice president and executive director of the Division of Minority and Women’s Business Development at Empire State Development, also spoke at the Cornell rally, where she critiqued the federal government’s behavior towards Puerto Rico.

“The federal government, meanwhile, has failed to uphold its responsibility and the people of Puerto Rico have been treated as second class citizens, and it really is time for all of us to say that enough is enough with this treatment,” she said.

Zapata awarded certificates from the governor’s Executive Chamber to Marielisa Cabrera ’18 and Arce, co-presidents of the Puerto Rican Student Association. Zapata said the awards recognized “local leaders who have organized in their communities to support our Puerto Rico efforts.”

Prof. Glenn Altschuler, dean of the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions, also addressed the Ithaca crowd. He said 62 students from the University of Puerto Rico are studying at Cornell this semester, where they are engaging in a “full semester of courses” and staying in campus dorms while Cornell covers their tuition, room and board.

Altschuler acknowledged the role the Ithaca community has played in the welcoming of UPR students.

“We’ve also had contributions from the Ithaca community, including Ithaca knitters, who have provided gloves, scarfs, caps and sweaters to these Puerto Rican students, many of whom are experiencing their first winter, and, like all Cornellians, loving and hating it,” he said.

The attendance of Cornell students was low at the rally, according to Andrew Peterson ‘18.

“It would have been nice to see a couple more students come out,” Peterson said. “Of the ones that did, it was nice that people did wake up this early on a Saturday. But regardless, it was great to see people from town come.”