Hartwick College will host a two-day student mini conference of the United States Colored Troops Institute for Local History and Family Research (USCTI) on Friday, October 10 and Saturday, October 11.
The conference theme is “From the USCT to the Korean War: Embracing Hispanic and Caribbean Soldiers in the Freedom Journey.” The Conference will feature a variety of lectures, presentations, discussions, a film screening, and the presentation of the Institute’s first American Society of Freedmen Descendants (ASFD) Gold Medal.
The Conference will also celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month. The USCTI will use the occasion to announce its expanded mission, which will now include highlighting the role of Hispanic and Caribbean soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces.
According to Harry Bradshaw Matthews, Hartwick College associate dean, director of the office of Intercultural Affairs and founding president of the USCTI, a major focus of the event will be to highlight the U.S. Army’s 65th Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Borinqueneers,” the only all-Hispanic unit in U.S. Army history.
Based in Puerto Rico, the Borinqueneers fought in both world wars, but gained a higher profile for its efforts in the Korean War. While military racial segregation formally ended in 1948, the Borinqueneers unit was not disbanded until the 1950s.
The story of the Borinqueneers’ heroism has been written about for decades, but their place in history was affirmed when President Barack Obama signed into law on June 10, 2014 a bill awarding the regiment the Congressional Gold Medal.
On Saturday, October 11, the film “The Borinqueneers: A Documentary on the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry Regiment,” will be shown at 1:30 p.m. in Yager Hall, Room 321B, on the Hartwick College campus.
During the conference, the ASFD, the national lineage society of the USCTI, will recognize the efforts of New York Supreme Court Justice Lucindo Hilda Suarez of the Bronx, who traced his family’s roots to a maternal uncle, Private Guillermo Bartolomey, who served as a member of the Borinqueneers. Suarez and his family were able to not only research and document their connection to Bartolomey, but document their own Puerto Rican heritage, which goes back to at least 1870.
The ASFD will present the Suarez family the first ASFD Gold Medal. Accepting the award on behalf of the family will be Hartwick College alumnus Dr. Roxanne Suarez ʼ03, who, along with her father, has been a member of the USCTI since 2002. Judge Suarez has preserved Private Bartolomey’s dog tags, which were used by the USCTI to verify his military service during the Korean War. The dog tags were an important piece of the verification process, as it appears that 80 percent of the Army records documenting the service history of former military personnel discharged from 1912-1964 were destroyed in 1973 by a fire at the National Personnel Records Center.
At the conference, Matthews will also announce the USCTI’s new initiative, expanding its focus to include Latino and Caribbean soldiers. As a part of this effort, the USCTI is beginning to locate families of the Borinqueneers and in February 2015, will start awarding personalized certificates of remembrance. A booklet is in development by the USCTI to identify most of the casualties of the 65th Infantry Regiment during its tour of duty in Korea.
Additional conference highlights include a presentation by Dr. Suarez on her family’s heritage. Other topics include “Why They Fought: Northern Black Soldiers in the Civil War,” and “Hispanic Soldiers: To Gettysburg, PA and Other Sites.” Presenters range from USCTI board members to Hartwick College professors and students.
On the importance of Hartwick students’ participation in the USCTI’s work, Matthews notes, “The role of Puerto Rican soldiers in American forces was brought to our attention by a Hartwick student, Janisha Tejada-Mills ʼ15, whose research about her grandfather, Andres Tejada, was included in the March issue of our publication, ‘Stories Our Mothers Told Us: A Search for Roots.’” Tejada-Mills, a self-described Afro-Puerto Rican, is a member of the Harriet Tubman Mentoring Project, the student chapter of the USCTI. In 2009, the Association of American Historians identified the Harriet Tubman Mentoring Project as a national model for the engagement of African American and Hispanic students in the study of history.
For more information on the mini-conference, please visit www.hartwick.edu/campus-life/intercultural-affairs/uscti-asfd-miniconference or contact Matthews at 607-431-4428 or firstname.lastname@example.org.