By Ann-Marie Adams
HARTFORD — The City Council is set to vote on whether a corner at Albany Avenue and Main Street will be dedicated to Keith Carr, “the glue” of the West Indian community who died last January.
The Council will meet Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the chambers on the second floor at City Hall, 550 Main Street.
The issue has caused a stir in the West Indian community. After considering the resolution since March, the Hartford City Council at a special meeting voted to reject the naming of the corner of Albany Ave. in July. There was no debate.
Since then, the West Indian community has been mobilizing to fight what they considered an affront to not just to the former community activist but to the entire community.
The mobilization came after an article that appeared The Hartford Guardian news magazine online. In that article, Luis Cotto said he opposed the targeted corner because it “belongs” to the Puerto Rican community.
“I originally questioned why name the specific location after Keith Carr, again, a man I highly admired and considered a mentor in my field. I thought I would hear rationale that spoke to Mr. Carr’s link to that specific site.
Instead I now understand that this represents a compromise between two communities, the communities in the upper Albany area (1.2 miles away from the proposed site) and communities in the North Main street area (1.3 miles away from the proposed site.),” Cotto said. “It is because of this that I must respectfully NOT support this item. That Tunnel section of the city is inextricably connected to the birth of the Puerto Rican community in this city.”
Cotto called the Clay Arsenal section of the City “the cradle” of the Puerto Rican community because “we came off the fields of tobacco in Windsor. My mother and father’s first apartment was on East Street and even decades later when we moved up to Vine, the only store that would give credit was Ernie’s Market.”
Others respectfully disagreed with Cotto’s claim that the community cradled only the Puerto Rican community.
In a answer to Cotto’s letter, Councilwoman Veronica Airey-Wilson stated that “we have got to reach a point in this city where we think unity rather than separation of communities. It is important for our kids to learn that this is a multi- ethnic city and a variety of people can be celebrated within our neighborhoods.”
She continues: “As you are aware, the West Indian and the Puerto Rican Communities have similar histories in Hartford. The Clay Arsenal neighborhood was where the West Indian farm workers settled when they left the tobacco farms in the 50’s and early 60’s. As a matter of fact, my parents lived on East Street and Green Street and shopped at Ernie’s too. They attended Church around the corner at Saint Monica’s and Mr. Carr followed the same pattern.”
Cotto earlier this year championed a street dedication for Maria Sanchez, a former community activist from Puerto Rico. As late as last Friday, he said he stands by his decision about the Keith Carr corner dedication.
And other residents have joined in the discussion.
Jean Walcott Holloway of Fairmont Street said that Clay Arsenal neighborhood belongs to African Americans and the Puerto Ricans and that the West Indians should find another corner to salute Keith Carr.
“It has become far too convenient lately to re-name or superimpose individual’s names on our street names irrespective of the residents’ opinion or the individual’s history in the area,” she said. “Such actions reduce the honor that may be bestowed on an individual and cause confusion in neighborhoods that have no connection with the individual being honored.”
Others in the West Indian community believe that argument is substantially flawed.
“Hartford contains many people of diverse backgrounds; Hispanic, West Indian, African , Vietnamese, East Indian, West African and East European, to name a few. We all share the city,” said Janet Wilson of Bannister Road. “Therefore, I do not understand how an attempt by one group to rename a street after a respected member of their community can possibly be construed as disrespect to any other ethnic group, especially someone like Keith Carr who was known and beloved by the Hartford community as a whole.”
Ann-Marie Adams is a West Indian, a Caribbean-American and an African-American. She’s also Afro-Latino.