"It’s the duty of every Puerto Rican to be a hero"
Esther Flores

Photo by Paul Becker

Being Puerto Rican is complicated in the capital of Ohio. My descendants come from the native islanders, the Taínos, Spain, and West Africa. Puerto Rico was originally known as El Boriquén and the natives Boricuas. Nowadays, the official language is Spanish with many words influenced by the Taínos.

The tradition is we speak in Spanish with our elders. Unlike my generation and younger we speak Spanglish among each other. Our gene pool is mixed. We are easily mistaken for people from other cultures. Our history involves colonialism, slavery, revolts and resiliency. Puerto Rico politics are complicated. It is a colony of the USA. The US Naval and Marine forces practiced missile bombing on the small islands around it. As a result, people began to suffer from cancer. Environmentalists and advocates have gone to jail by voicing their concerns demanding the demilitarization and clean up from the radioactive waste and missiles.

History taught me that the Taínos became extinct when the Spanish conquistadors used weapons to kill them when they resisted and introduced them to the European diseases. Good news, the Taínos did survive. They were brilliant. They knew the Spaniards were not conditioned to climb the hills. Puerto Rican hillbillies are called Jibaros they usually wear a straw hat and have a machete and are excellent in the fields. They are very common in central and south American and in African countries. Even though Puerto Rico has been industrialized we still have Jibaros on the hills who managed to survive Hurricane María devastation.

Puerto Ricans come from a warm culture. They love diversity, advocacy, food, festivities, and are great salsa dancers. Many are religious and live by the golden rule to love God first and then people. Due to our lineage many Puerto Ricans feel comfortable marrying people from outside their culture if they can speak a mutual language.

Are you aware that Puerto Ricans have made many contributions to all sectors of society is much longer but here are few? Joseph M. Acaba was the first astronaut and Deborah Aguilar-Veléz was an engineer, businesswoman and author of Spanish language computer science books. Marc Anthony and Jennifer Lopez are singers, dancers, actors, and producers. Ricky Martin was a firecracker who introduced salsa music to mainstream. He is an advocate for human rights and the environment. Rita Moreno is one of the few actresses who won all four of the major entertainment awards: the Oscar, Tony, Emmy and a Grammy. We have one of our own, Judge Sonia Sotomayor in the US Supreme Court. She is a native from my hometown the Bronx, the poorest borough in New York. Whoever said nothing good comes out of the ghetto?

Growing up between the Bronx and Spanish Harlem I was comfortable living among many different ethnicities and participating in their festivities. We embraced our differences and helped each other in good and bad times. My own experiences molded me into a human activist.

Columbus was a culture shock. I experienced racism when I first moved Columbus and I still do! It started by attending the Ohio State University and at several places I worked. Last year I was labeled a racist by several black advocates that not once helped the homeless black folks who are trafficked in our city. I attended some of the demonstrations that started peacefully and ended in riots. Throughout my life I attended demonstrations for justice cause. It was at the Ohio Statehouse I ran from a police officer mounted on a horse who began to spray innocent bystanders with pepper spray.

I am the founder of 1DivineLine2Health, a 501c3 public charity, with a mission to end human suffering locally and internationally. We have two safe houses, two love bug vehicles, a community garden, and opened the first full-time Drop-In Center in the county tailored to human trafficking victims, their children and transgender folks. We do not discriminate against anyone. We serve mostly human trafficking victims.

Human Trafficking is a pandemic, and it’s the worst kind of human atrocity and happening in Columbus. It is complex trauma. It takes special kind of people to work with them in the peak hours when the services are unavailable. The victims have become the Indians and systems the cowboys. They are coerced into prostitution and introduced to a potent opiate that enslaves the person to it and a lifestyle of violence. In the street culture, Hispanics, Blacks, Asian, and biracial women are considered exotic and the younger they are the price tag of their body increases the streets. Most of society see the people I serve as prostitutes. I see them as destitute people who lack love from officials who have the power to do much more to stop the mess we are caught up in.

Children of color go missing and are labeled as runaways which forfeits their eligibility for Amber Alert especially those whose parents don’t speak English. The Amber Alert system NEEDS to include children with disabilities. I had several experiences this year which were alarming. If it wasn’t for some friends in position of authority and speaking the language, we would have had some fatalities. We all found out firsthand the lack of cultural competence and breach of protocols. Young children and vulnerable populations need to be protected, first by their family, community, state and nation.

Columbus is heterogenous, especially working on the West Side. I hope one day people can stop labeling others by their skin color. Life would be simple and peaceful if we all see each other through the lens of compassion. Columbus has beautiful people, some hurt more than others. Racial tensions can be eliminated if we start respecting one another. It must start in the home. We ALL have a duty to live the golden rule and be justice. There is only one race, the human race. We cannot undermine a person because they don’t look American. What does an American look like?

I accept my greatness and uniqueness because God made me small with a big heart for the people living in the shadows. So I accept the fact that I am a simple Puerto Rican tackling complicated problems if the powers at be listen to the trench workers. My patriot, Pedro Albizu Campos spoke six languages and was loved by many in the island and internationally. He had a military science and chemical engineer degree. He was the first Puerto Rican who graduated from the Harvard Law School who was supposed to be the valedictorian, but the president did not allow him because he had a dark complexion. His dream was for Puerto Rico to be a free nation. His words have always motivated me to be better and not bitter with the opposition. He said, “It’s the duty of every Puerto Rican to be a hero, to be wise, be the most cultured person on earth, because small nationalities are based on greatness of each individual.”

Sisters and brothers, this is a part of my legacy. We all can be heroes. For me it is simple to love the hell out of people. Yet it’s complicated as an advocate for those in the shadows. Maybe if Love replace hatred, Faith replaced fear, Hope replaced despair, then maybe Columbus would become a smart and harmonious place to live in!


Hispanic Heritage month is celebrated from Sept 15th to Oct 15th

Esther Flores is the Free Press 2021 "Libby" Award winner, and will speak at the October cyber-salon, Saturday, October 9 at 7pm.