John Velazquez of Puerto Rico rides Always Dreaming to victory in the 143 running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchhill Downs on May 6, 2017. (Jason Szenes image)
News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, May 12, 2017: On Saturday, May 6, 2017, over 130,000 mainly Caucasian-Americans gathered in the stands and on the grounds of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, to witness the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Many of the women flaunted crazy hats, while the men guzzled mint julep and most sang along with the Kentucky’s state song, “My Old Kentucky Home.”
Few knew or bothered to find out that the song they were singing along to was written by 19th century minstrel, Stephen Foster, as an anti-slavery anthem. It was a lament to the racism that was very much part of the state’s history then and which today, still exists in many quarters.
Perhaps the song is not as shocking now since in 1986, The Kentucky General Assembly passed a law that removed the words “darky” and “darkies” from the song and replaced them with “people.” But who cares about all that offensive stuff on race day, especially in Trump America?
On race day, all eyes were peeled to the track and on the horses and the short, thin statured jockeys perched atop. Few bothered to note that most of the jockeys riding in the race were immigrants. In fact, most jockeys riding professionally across the US today, period, are immigrants. That little detail was pushed far into the recesses of the minds of those at the Derby Saturday.
But the reality was that 15 of the 20 jockeys were immigrants; foreigners; not born in America!
Six were born in Latin America; four were born in the Caribbean; three were born in Europe and one was born in Canada.
John Velazquez, the jockey who went on to win the 2017 Derby for the second time on Always Dreaming, was born in Puerto Rico.
Jose Ortiz, who came second, was also born in Puerto Rico.
Jose Lezcano, who led a long part of the race with State of Honor, was born in Panama.
Triple Crown winner Victor Espinoza, riding Gormley, was born in Mexico.
Rajiv Maragh, riding the 5-2 favorite Irish War Cry, was born in Jamaica.
Javier Castellano, riding Gunnevera, was born in Venezuela.
Joel Rosario, riding Practical Joke, was born in the Dominican Republic.
Mario Gutierrez, on Irap, was born in Mexico.
Christophe Soumillon, atop Thunder Snow, was born in Belgium.
Ricardo Santana, Jr., riding Untrapped, was born in Chorio, Panama.
Mike Smith on Girvin was born in Canada.
Florent Geroux on Hence, was born in France.
His brother, Julien R. Leparoux, riding Classic Empire, was also born in France.
Luis Saez, atop J Boys Echo, was born in Panama, and;
Flavien Prat, riding Battle of Midway, was born in France.
Yet, somehow, in a state known for its racism, no one yelled: “Go Back Where You Came From” or the other favorites: “Beaners” and “Illegals.”
Perhaps, because they all realized that the Derby and the sport of professional horse racing would be absolutely dead without these highly skilled and experienced immigrant jockeys, who deliver win after win for owners and trainers.
And so at the end of the day, the only thing they saw when they looked at these immigrants was not black or brown – but green! It is a lesson many would do best to learn about most immigrants and their stellar contribution to these United States.