HYDE SQ.—U.S. Sen. Scott Brown visited Jamaica Plain on Aug. 16, meeting with organizers of a Puerto Rican veterans memorial at the landmark restaurant El Oriental de Cuba at 416 Centre St.
“The good senator has committed to help us raise $100,000 for the monument,” said Tony Molina, a JP resident and the project director for the Puerto Rican Veterans Monument Square Association, which aims to improve upon an existing veterans memorial in the South End.
“Sen. Brown was pleased to sit down for lunch today with leaders in the Puerto Rican community to discuss the importance of building a memorial to honor the tremendous sacrifices Puerto Rican soldiers have made to protect the freedoms we all enjoy,” said Brown campaign spokesperson Alleigh Marré.
The Republican senator’s appearance was not welcomed by everyone. Local state Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, a Democrat, coincidentally was conducting a media interview at the restaurant when Brown showed up. He later told the Gazette that he was outraged to see Brown in JP and Hyde Square, the heart of the local Latino community.
“How dare he come to Jamaica Plain?” Sánchez said, adding that Brown has “ignored” the gay community, the Hispanic community, urban youths seeking jobs, and “people trying to raise themselves out of poverty.” Sánchez pointed to Brown’s longtime refusal to be interviewed by the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community newspaper Bay Windows, and his opposition to the Dream Act, which allowed some illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
“Go have a Cuban sandwich, because you’re obviously not interested in anything else in this community,” Sánchez said of Brown. “Enjoy your sandwich and get out.”
Brown’s campaign did not respond directly to Sánchez. Instead, spokesperson Marré noted that Brown is supported by several Massachusetts Democrats, including former Boston Mayor Ray Flynn and several former state representatives from other areas. That is because Brown is an “independent thinker” and a “bridge-builder, not a rock-thrower,” Marré said.
Sánchez said he did not confront the senator at the restaurant, but that he did question Molina, saying, “It’s an insult to have that guy here.”
“This is not a political issue,” Molina said, laughing off Sánchez’s criticism and noting that the veterans organization is “apolitical.” However, the event was covered by the Spanish-language newspaper El Mundo.
“That’s why we fought for liberty in this country,” to voice opposing political views, added Molina, a former Marine who says he was the first Puerto Rican wounded in Vietnam.
The Puerto Rican veterans memorial has broad political support, including longtime backing from the state’s other U.S. senator, Democrat John Kerry, according to a Kerry spokesperson.
Molina said his group recently contacted Brown’s office, only expecting to meet with an aide. To their surprise, they were told that Brown would meet them in person, with only two days’ notice, Molina said.
PRVMSA President Jaime Rodriguez told the Gazette that Brown’s Democratic opponent in this year’s election, Elizabeth Warren, has not been invited to PRVMSA events because the focus has been on organizing support from current elected officials.
El Oriental de Cuba has been a community gathering spot and local political meeting spot for decades. For owner Nobel Garcia, Brown’s visit was just another chance to take a photo of a famous guest for the walls.
“I’m completely apolitical,” Garcia told the Gazette. “They ate, had fun. It was very nice.”
The veterans association is attempting to improve the site of an existing South End memorial to a Puerto Rican infantry regiment that served in the Korean War. The plan is for a statue of a male soldier and a female soldier as a memorial to Puerto Rican veterans of all American conflicts. For more information see prvmsa.org.
Corrected version: Due to incorrect information provided by a PRVMSA official, the original version of this article incorrectly said that Warren did not respond to PRVMSA event invitations.