Voices e / Magazine / Barrios


“I embrace my Crucianness, but I cannot deny my Puerto Ricanness
because these two cultures make me who I am today.”

      Senator Nellie Rivera O’Reilly was actually born Nereida Rivera on September 8, 1964 in Christiansted, St. Croix (U.S. Virgin Islands). She is the daughter of Diana Cruz and Francisco Rivera Navarro of Puerto Rican ancestry, and is the oldest of four children (the other three are males). Her grandparents were the ones who decided to emigrate from the Puerto Rican municipalities of Vieques and Rio Grande in the 1930’s. Their primary reason was financial and their interest was focused on the sugar cane plantations of St. Croix (Sta. Cruz). By the time Nellie was born, her family was established on the island and she began her own academic life in a series of public schools, which she feels prepared her very well for her future studies in Paralegal Science and led to a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Management and Finance from the University of Phoenix. She is more comfortable speaking English, although the first language she learned was Puerto Rican Spanish. Part of her life was spent living in “Machuchal” or Estate Profit where there is a large Puerto Rican community, but her family eventually moved to Estate Calquhoun, where she lived until she married. She currently lives in Estate Mary’s Fancy with her husband and two children.

      Nellie worked as a paralegal for many years and is now a senator for the U.S. Virgin Islands (the only woman out of a total of fifteen senators). She has been a community activist fighting for the rights of Hispanics on the island of St. Croix and was at one time, the president of Hispanos Unidos, an association dedicated to fomenting educational and cultural activities among the islands’ Hispanic communities. She is currently presenting legislation to create the Office of Latino Affairs, which has the purpose of helping Hispanics or “Latinos” with diverse interests and problems.

      She loves the beauty of the island of St. Croix and the fact that everybody knows everybody, and that people are very friendly. She is proud of her heritage and follows Puerto Rican traditions although she feels part of the Crucian people in general. About the Puerto Rican community on the island, she feels that even though many have been living in St. Croix for a long time or were not even born in Puerto Rico, “We are still Puerto Ricans … [and] this refusal to let go of the traditions make us who we are. [During the Christmas season] [w]e still have parrandas, arroz con gandules, lechón asado [and] wherever you go, you’ll find coquito and pasteles … It is the only thing we have left … we are the ones who keep the traditions going.” She concludes with: “I embrace my Crucianness but I cannot deny my Puerto Ricanness because these two cultures make me the person I am today.”

      Senator Nellie Rivera O’Reilly is an example of one of the many hardworking and proud people of Puerto Rican ancestry on the island of St. Croix. However, through her position as senator, she is looking forward to not only helping the Puerto Rican community, but also helping all of the other communities on her beloved island.

st.croix barrios