Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico
By Domitila Vargas
Puerto Ricans have been part of this community from the beginning of the last century and have become a strong, powerful group of people working hard to improve themselves, their families and what became their new home, St. Croix.
Their influence was recognized in 1964 by the local Legislature, under Governor Ralph E. Paiewonsky, approving Act No. 1075 making a historical change. Columbus Day, observed in all the Americas as the Discovery Day, was now to be Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship Day. This bill called upon the citizens of the Virgin Islands to "observe the occasion with fitting ceremonies honoring Puerto Ricans residing in our midst and who have made substantial contributions to the advancement and progress of the Virgin Islands."
After the passing of Governor Cyril E. King (second elected governor of the VI) in 1978, Juan Francisco Luis (the first and only Hispanic Governor who served 10 consecutive years) and First Lady Mrs. Luz Maria Luis brought the activity to Christiansted where she could give this event and honorees the recognition they deserved by having it in Government House - this year on October 10.
What started as a luncheon, moved on to three days, then a week, and in 2005, by the initiative of the VI/PR Friendship Committee, expanded to a whole month. Now, in a very fitting way, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Friendship Day is combined with the Hispanic Heritage Month, celebrated nationwide, to recognize the contributions to our nation made by Puerto Ricans and all the Hispanics who have joined them.
The first VI/PR Village was celebrated at the Christiansted waterfront and was dedicated to Mr. Miguel Duchesne (deceased), the first VI/ PR Committee president. Every year thereafter, the village has been an important part of the celebrations and it's always dedicated to an outstanding community servant. The Friendship Parade, that was part of the celebrations in the past, will be revived this year on October 10 starting in Richmond and ending at the Canegata Ball Park grounds - the site of this year's Friendship Village from October 8-11.
The first VI/PR Friendship Queen was Nereida Santos, selected in 1960, even before the passing of the bill. Today, Mrs. Santos remembers those wonderful days and continues to encourage our youngsters to cultivate their cultural heritage.
Throughout the years, the VIPR Friendship Committee has expanded its scope, adding many other events to the schedule. Among them, the celebration of the "Noche de San Juan," poster contests among students, the revival of the Queen Show, Thanksgiving Concerts, theatrical plays from Puerto Rico and local talent (at Island Center for the Performing Arts), Fiesta en el Batey at Whim Museum (October 3), food fairs, Art and Pictorial Exhibitions, a documentary premiere (Sugar Pathways), the opening of a Hispanic Collection Corner at the Evelyn Williams Library, the presentation of many first class music bands and performers from Puerto Rico, and this year, the revival of the boat trip to the "Fiestas Patronales" on the sister island of Vieques, which was a dear tradition in the past. 2010 sees "Friendship Ties Stronger Than Ever" celebrated with pride.