Building community often begins with the individual. In the premiere of the third season of Puerto Rican Voices, we meet three individuals whose accomplishments have inspired a sense of community among the Puerto Rican community as well as the Latino community at large. Carla Cortijo, for example, is the first Puerto Rican-born basketball player to join a WNBA franchise. She was surprised and humbled to see Latinos of various backgrounds showing support at Atlanta Dream home games. Next, we learn about director Pedro Bermudez’s short film Hasta mañana which brought together the Puerto Rican and Latino communities in Hartford, CT. Then finally, professional handball player Wally Amaro discusses his mission to popularize the sport among local youth in Philadelphia as a way of ensuring unity and respect.
Last season, Carla Cortijo made history as the first Puerto Rican-born player to play for a WNBA team when she joined the Atlanta Dream late last year. Now, with her second season well under way, the 29-year-old point guard looks back on her career and the long journey that led her to where she is today. From winning gold with the Puerto Rican national team at the 2011 Pan-Am Games to encouraging the next generation of women’s basketball in Puerto Rico Carla is proud to be a role model and share her success. “Every time I step onto the court to play, I always have this nervousness that I have to represent my country,” she affirms.
In 2015, Pedro Bermudez made a short film entitled “Hasta mañana” which tells the story of a Puerto Rican grandfather attempting to raise his teenaged grandchild, a recent transplant from the island to the city of Hartford, CT. In doing so, the director involved members of the sizable Latino community living in the city, of which the vast majority are Puerto Rican. The film was a huge success, garnering support through its use of local actors and depictions of culturally relevant locations throughout the city. As Bermudez explains, “There such a need to have the community feel represented accurately, truthfully.”
For Wally Amaro, playing handball saved his life. Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia, he credits the sport with keeping him off the streets and later, as a professional handball player, he had the opportunity to travel around the world, often representing Puerto Rico as a member of its elite national team. His passion for the sport has also translated into community activism. With only a meager five regulation-sized courts in the city of Philadelphia, Wally founded the Pennsylvania Handball Association. The organization works to maintain and refurbish existing courts, in addition to hosting tournaments and summer camps. Through his work, Wally is able to promote unity and respect among local youth, offering them the same experience that inspired his love of the sport and the positive effect it has had on his life.
That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for more Puerto Rican Voices as we continue to place a spotlight on the Puerto Rican communities and individuals making a difference across the United States.
© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 9 September 2016.