Last week Boricuas for a Positive Image, a grassroots New York City community group formed after ABC’s “Work It” fiasco, has formally asked for MillerCoors to stop distribution of special Coors Light beer cans donning the Puerto Rican flag. Marketed as the official bear of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, held this June in Manhattan, BFPI issued a press statement and wrote to the head of the beer distribution company selling the cans.
The statement says that a “large number of Puerto Rican organizations, elected officials, activists, and neighborhood groups that Coors, Inc. cease distributing a promotional beer can with the symbol of the Puerto Rican flag. We believe Coors has insulted the Puerto Rican community by using this promotion before the parade.” Coors, Inc. is now part of MillerCoors, whose headquarters are located in Chicago.
“This is an insult to our culture, history, and flag. We will not allow Coors to insult us,” BFPI’s Lucky Rivera said.
According to the statement, “the coalition plans protests and demonstrations if Coors fails to agree with their demands. It has also expressed great disappointment with the marketing agent of the parade, whom they say has shown more interest in profit than in portraying a positive image.”
BFPI also send the following letter to Simon Bergson of Manhattan Beer Distributors, which is based in The Bronx.
Dear Mr. Bergson:
We are writing to demand that you immediately stop manufacturing and/or distributing your offensive promotional for the Puerto Rican day parade – a Coors Light can with a Puerto Rican flag on its face.
We are very proud of our flag, which represents our history and heritage. Puerto Ricans have striven to excel in American society in spite of our Sisyphean struggle against oppression and discrimination from time immemorial. Our national symbol on your can perpetuates hidden racist stereotypes and messages associated with Latinos while simultaneously denigrating Latinos in general and Puerto Ricans in particular, all of which you disguise by your tasteless imprimatur of our beloved flag on your beer can. It is revolting and embarrassing. It is reminiscent of the scandalous wall mural in the 90s in East Harlem depicting people drunk on the street, which was ultimately removed.
Therefore, we are demanding that this promotional be immediately ended, all distributed cans be re-called, and no further distribution take place.
Further, we do not recognize any agreements with any marketing agents of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade that places a price tag on our flag, our dignity, pride and history.
If you fail to immediately respond to our demands, you will leave us no alternative but to use any and all legal means, including civil protests and boycotts, to halt your misconceived promotional.
This is not the first time MillerCoors has faced criticism during the Puerto Rican Day Parade. In 2011, the company had to remove its “Emborícuate” ads after community reaction reached a critical point. Latino Rebels initiated an online petition that garnered local and national attention.
An May 25 email by The National Institute for Latino Policy addresses the latest story and places the blame on the parade’s board of directors:
Here They Go Again!
Coors and the Puerto Rican Parade
The NiLP Network on Latino Issues (May 25, 2013)
“From “EMBORICUATE” to this. I think the target of the PR community’s wrath on this matter should be the Nat PR Day Parade’s board, not Coors or their marketing agent! DEMAND they pull the advertising! Recall the product! Take the board president to task for allowing the selling out our people & culture! Challenge this year ‘s parade theme, which is HEALTH, not getting drunk!” —Ephraim Cruz in May 23, 2013 Facebook posting
“A very Americanized Puerto Rican asked me why I was so upset about the parade board of directors making a deal with Coors to place the Puerto Rican flag on its beer can as a promotion. I said that flag symbolizes our nation, our ancestors ,our history, our dignity. No one has the right to grant permission to Coors to place our flag on their promotion. Our parade has become more interested in money than in cultural pride. It’s time to take back our parade . . . now!”—Ramon Jimenez on May 24, 2013 in his Facebook page
It seems like the leadership of the National Puerto Rican Day Parade, to be held on June 9th in NYC, just can’t help themselves! As you can see, they have cut some sort of deal with the MillerCoors company to not only be the official beer of the parade but to display their logo, and the Puerto Rican flag, on cans of their Coors Light beer. As Ephraim Cruz, Ramon Jimenez and others have pointed out, this is unacceptable, but instead of criticizing Coors, the cry is going out on the need to hold the Board of Directors of the Parade accountable themselves!
What makes this even more egregious is this year’s parade theme is: Salud—Celebrating Your Health. Among Latinos, Puerto Ricans have the highest rate of alcohol dependence and the highest rate of the need for acohol use treatment, according to the National Institutes of Health. So, in this case, they must be using “salud” as drinkers do,“¡Salud!” and not as a public health message.
You may recall that in 2011, MillerCoors had to discontinue its ‘Emborícuate’ Coors Light Puerto Rican Day Parade advertising campaign after widespread community criticism. This campaign had been running for three years straight until those in social media raised issue as a call by Coors for Puerto Ricans to get drunk on their product. In fact, back in 1984, Coors had signed an unholy agreement with six leading national Latino organizations in which they agreed to getting larger grants from the company if they increased the amount of Coors beer consumed by the Latino community, an agreement that was scrapped after strong criticism by the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy (IPR) (as NiLP was called then) and other community leaders.
So it is surprising to many in the Puerto Rican community that the Parade leadership would allow the Puerto Rican flag to be displayed this year on a beer can. Are they willing to allow the perception that in exchange for money or donated product that they would allow unhealthy messages to their community? The Board and many other volunteers of the Parade work hard every year to pull off this unique and high profile event, why would they want to tarnish their efforts in this way?
Critics have called on the Puerto Rican community to contact the leadership of the Parade to let them know how you feel about this. Besides telling them to junk these beer cans, does the issue of the need for a broader leadership of the Parade need to be raised as well, given this history? According to their website, these are the members of the National Puerto Rican Parade Board of Directors and staff:
Carlos Velazquez, Official Business & Marketing Agent: [email protected]
Madelyn Lugo, Chairperson: [email protected]
Melissa R. Quesada, Vice Chairperson: [email protected]
Trinity A. Padilla, Executive Secretary: [email protected]
Shirley Cox, Treasurer: [email protected]
Luis Rivera, General Coordinator: No Email Available
Rafael E. Dominguez, Director of External Affairs: [email protected]
María Román Dumén, Honorary Member: [email protected]