Greatest contribution for America: First Hispanic state

Starting on Sept. 15, our nation will celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month, a period for recognizing the social, political and cultural contribution made by Hispanics and Latinos to enhance the greatness of our country – the United States of America. Puerto Ricans are an integral part of this heritage, who have influenced the way of life in our nation.

For more than two centuries, the United States have has served as a beacon of freedom, democracy and opportunity in the world. Unlike many political regimes which subjugated the people’s voice to maintain a false sense of cohesiveness, America has pushed forward the boundaries of personal freedom and free thinking, gaining, in essence, power though the people, and the Latino community has been at the front of this crusade.

Puerto Rico, a U.S. Territory since the end of the Spanish American War in 1898, has made enormous contributions to America, and is an integral part of the American society. There is a never ending list of people from this Caribbean Island that have made a footprint in U.S. history.

In government, start with our Sonia Sotomayor, the first and only Supreme Court Justice of Hispanic American heritage. Antonia Novello served as Surgeon General of the United States, the first and only Hispanic woman to do so. Anthony Romero is the president of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization that promotes freedom and justice for all U.S. citizens, no matter where they live.

Puerto Ricans have also impacted the fields of sports and entertainment in many respected ways. Former baseball player and a Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, Roberto Clemente, is one of the most celebrated and renowned in the world. How many have heard the music of Jennifer López, Ricky Martin and Marc Anthony? They are three of the greatest performers in our lifetime. Rita Moreno is one of few performers to have won all four of the major entertainment awards: Oscar, Tony, Emmy and Grammy.

Puerto Rican astronaut Joseph Michael Acaba is one of the most distinguished members of the American space crew and is now on his third mission. There’s also Mrs. Deborah Aguiar, an engineer, award winning businesswoman and author of several well-renowned Spanish language computer science textbooks. We can go on.

Since 1917, as American citizens, Puerto Ricans have proudly served in our nation’s armed forces. Around 700,000 of our soldiers have participated, with distinction and courage, in all U.S. theaters of wars, including the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Kuwait, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq.

The famous 65th Infantry Regiment, a distinguished unit of the U. S. Army that served in the Korean War, was mostly composed by Puerto Rican soldiers, hence their nickname, the “Borinqueneers”. It is one of the most revered unit in the history of entire U.S. Armed Forces. Conscious of the contributions of the Hispanic and Latino community, President Lyndon Johnson acknowledged the first Hispanic Heritage Week. Twenty years later, President Ronald Reagan expanded the celebration to cover a 30-day period. As I mentioned, the one thing that makes America stand above any other world power is its diversity. The concept of the United States began with a promise of equality for all, yet, currently there are more than 3.5 million U.S. citizens of Hispanic heritage living in Puerto Rico that do not enjoy that equality. It’s time for Congress and the White House to send a powerful message to the rest of the world.

It’s time to make a statement that America is still that Shining City on Top of the Hill, with the admission of Puerto Rico as our nation’s 51st, state. Puerto Rico, as a predominated Hispanic state, will bring America a renowned sense of greatness, an example that plurality equal greatness. The time has come for our nation to act. The United States citizens in Puerto Rico have twice voted for statehood in the last six years. It’s imperative that those votes be hear and counted. This could be the maximum expression of recognition of the Hispanic and Latino contribution to America.

Carlos "Johnny" Mendez-Nunez is Speaker of Puerto Rico's House of Representatives.