Latin Meatballs and the African Puerto Ricans in the Great War (RECIPE)

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All of the regular signs are present signifying that it is once again grilling season. The warmer weather, more hours of sunlight, birds chirping and unfortunately, buzzing mosquitos. All of these cues prompt us to put flame to charcoal, propane or wood and carry out the time honors tradition of converting raw meat to a tasty meal. Nothing is more American than standing over a freshly cut lawn while manning a lineup of sizzling meat. If all of those clues have not lead you to lift up the hood of your grill, the last weekend in May marks one of our country’s most recognizable grilling events, Memorial Day. In the mist of good times at the beach, BBQs, backyard-gates and pool parties, the real meaning of Memorial Day sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. The day is set aside to honor and give thanks to the soldiers who have given their lives to protect the United States from its birth to present day. So before lighting up our grill and twisting off a cold one, be sure to take a moment recognize the sacrifice all Americans have given for our country. In that moment, would like to take a moment and take a look at the contribution of Puerto Ricans in World War I.

As a result of the Spanish-American War, the tiny Island of Puerto Rico was annexed by the United States per the terms of the  Treaty of Paris of 1898. In 1917 the Jones-Shafroth Act granted citizenship to inhabitants of the island making all age appropriate males eligible for the draft to the armed forces, a month later the United States Declared War on Germany in World War I.

On November 1917, the first military draft lottery in Puerto Rico was held in the island’s capital, San Juan. The number picked was 1435 and it belonged to San Juan native Eustaquio Correa. Thus, Correa became the first Puerto Rican to be “drafted” into the Armed Forces of the United States.  It is estimated that 236,000 Puerto Ricans in the island registered for the World War I draft and that 18,000 served in the war.

Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. - US National Archives website
Soldiers of the 369th (15th N.Y.) who won the Croix de Guerre for gallantry in action, 1919. – US National Archives website

The United States also applied their military segregation policies to the native Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans of African descent were assigned to all black units such as the 375th Regiment. Puerto Ricans were to be sent to North Carolina to train for deployment overseas, however Senators from the Southeastern states opposed and foiled these plans, citing that Puerto Ricans would be a problem to the laws and customs of the racist Jim Crow policies. Southern politicians were alarmed of the idea of having armed African-Americans in the south and believed that Puerto Ricans of mixed race, who did not understand their racial policies, would only add to their problems. On May 17, the “Porto Rico” Regiment of Infantry was sent to guard the Panama Canal in defense of the Panama Canal Zone and other vital military installations while the other Puerto Rican regiments guarded Puerto Rico.

In New York, many Puerto Ricans of African descent joined the 369th Infantry Regiment which was mostly composed of Afro-Americans. While fighting in Europe the unit was assigned to French Army command as many white American soldiers refused to fight alongside black soldiers. The African American and African Puerto Ricans fought along the Western Front in France, and their reputation earned them the nickname of “the Harlem Hell Fighters” by the Germans. Spending over six months in combat, perhaps the longest of any American unit in the war, the 369th suffered approximately fifteen hundred casualties but received only nine hundred replacements. The 369th was awarded Croix de guerre by France for battlefield gallantry.

Source: Wikipedia, Blackpast.org

We developed the following recipe for the North Carolina Pork Council highlighting the use of fresh Carolina pork. It is a simple recipe for grilled meatballs adding a Latin American spin with seasonings and spices used in Puerto Rican cooking while adding a local, southern kick with sweet potato based Cackylacky BBQ sauce. 

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Latin Meatballs

1 lb. ground pork

3 tablespoons sofrito (for recipe click here)

1 tablespoon of bread crumbs

1 teaspoon of adobo

1 teaspoon fennel

1 teaspoon marojam

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon sazon

Cackalacky Spice Sauce (or your favorite BBQ sauce)

Mix all of the ingredients (with the exception of the BBQ Sauce) into a large bowl and mix well. Use a 1/3 measuring cup to divide the meat into rough balls. Break each ball in half and roll into a ball.

Place the balls on a hot grill and brown on all sides.

Baste meatballs with a liberal amount of BBQ sauce and for 2-3 additional minutes on both sides.

Remove from grill and serve with a side of BBQ sauce.

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