Robins officer talks history, MLK Jr.

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Julio Gomez
  • 5th Combat Communications Group deputy commander
Dr. Martin Luther King is a national treasure and one of my personal heroes. He did more for civil rights, sparking the demise of an oppressive chapter in our nation's history; but, he didn't just do this for African-Americans. His efforts delivered dark-skinned people from oppression everywhere - people who would come to our country from all nations on the globe to make us the great nation that we are today. 

I was very fortunate to have been born into a color-blind family and for at least the first eight years of life, be raised in a color-blind environment. I can trace my father's lineage to shipbuilders from southern Spain. My father's lineage also includes Taino blood, native Americans found living on the island of 'Borinquen' [Puerto Rico] long before Columbus' second trip to the New World in 1493.

I can trace my mother's lineage to the countries of Nigeria and Benin/Togo in Africa. The Spanish were arguably the greatest military power on the globe at the time and certainly possessed a peerless navy. Their desire to maintain that power drove an unhealthy lust for gold and silver; however, there wasn't much of either on the islands of Puerto Rico. Returning to Europe with new spices - mustard, hot peppers, cilantro - eventually led to the creation of a European market for sugar and tobacco. These products ended up being just as lucrative as gold or silver ever were and allowed for decades of wealth-creation for a budding colony of Spanish noblemen on the island. These noblemen didn't work 'their' lands; that's what Tainos were for and when they started dying off from European-borne diseases, the Spanish then 'purchased' African slaves to work the sugar cane and tobacco fields in Puerto Rico. 

In comes my mother's lineage. It is quite possible, though we have no way to prove it, that my father's ancestors built the ships upon which my mother's ancestors were 'delivered' as slaves to the New World. Records can be sketchy when they're nearly 600 years old, but suffice it to say that slavery had its hold for six to eight decades on the island before multiple Taino/slave revolts forced the Spanish to intermarry and erect a feudal system where former slaves/Tainos could eventually own their own property and no longer be property themselves.

Like many immigrant groups to the U.S., Puerto Ricans migrated to big cities in the northeast looking for an economic advantage the island's agrarian economy could not provide. 

Upon moving to places like New York, New Jersey, Boston, Cleveland, and other industrial cities in the 1930's, they noticed that mainland Americans noticed people had colors and shades and were painted into categories that had not been part of the Puerto Rican consciousness for decades. Unlike many immigrants, Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since the enactment of the Foraker Act of 1900.  They had been well-educated in colleges that predate the existence of a United States, owned property and businesses, and otherwise lived the American dream and without racial discrimination. Can you imagine the culture shock and unfair treatment of colored Puerto Ricans like Roberto Clemente or Victor Pellot over their fair-skinned, in some cases, siblings from the same parents?  Puerto Ricans were used to being treated by what they could produce, deliver, and give to [island] society long before Martin Luther King dreamed to live in a country where people would "...not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character". Did you know that Martin Luther King was a guest at Roberto Clementes' farm in Puerto Rico?

We are not a perfect nation by any means, but I like to think that we are that much closer to a color-blind America, closer to MLK's vision of being judged by our character!