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Keefe Rhodes sits down with Reinaldo Paniagua-Diez

Upstate Latino Summit keynoter reflects on Puerto Rico's special place

The night before he had delivered the keynote speech for the 3rd Annual Upstate Latino Summit at the OnCenter, an event that drew 250 participants from across the state, including the governor and a number of officeholders and candidates. But late Saturday afternoon Reinaldo Paniagua-Diez and his wife, in town until Monday from Puerto Rico, had spent a luxurious few hours relaxing with family and friends around the dining room table in their daughter Rita's airy, second-floor flat on a quiet Westside street near Onondaga Park. A fire crackled in the living room fireplace to take the fall chill off. Jos (c) Miguel Hernandez, whose La Joven Guardia Del Teatro Latino (Latino Theatre Youth Troupe) had performed at the previous night's event and received a special recognition award, arrived bearing a chocolate cake from Biscotti's and the family patriarch graciously did the honors.

Rita Paniagua is executive director of La Liga (the Spanish Action League), which had brought the annual summit to Syracuse for the first time. Her sister Tere, who lives just several doors away, is director of the Point of Contact Gallery on East Genesee Street, and had come to Syracuse first for the Newhouse School at Syracuse University, where she now also teaches a journalism course cross-listed with Latino Studies.

"We grew up seeing our father give speeches," said Tere of herself and Rita, "but I think this is something new for my kids."

The Paniagua sisters have three younger brothers as well -- Raymond, Alberto and Eduardo, in Puerto Rico -- and in all there are eight grandchildren. The youngest is Stella, 2, and Paniagua-Diez said he had called home four times during this trip "to check on her."

Sitting a while later in Rita's office, Paniagua-Diez said that his daughter had asked him to stress the political situation of Puerto Ricans in the U.S. in his keynote address. Re-capping his speech, he had gone immediately to the core of this situation.

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