ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Hispanic Heritage Month is a time to celebrate local Hispanic Americans whose contributions and efforts continue to impact the greater Rochester community.
Orlando Ortiz is one of those people. News 8 is proud to share his story for our Hispanic Heritage Month coverage.
At just 10-years-old, Ortiz came to the United States from Puerto Rico. At the time, his parents told him he and his two siblings were visiting family members for a month-long vacation. However, that visit turned into much more.
“They said, ‘Surprise, we’re just gonna stay in Rochester!’ Ortiz recalled.
While it was an adjustment, the western New York community quickly became a home for Ortiz. He recalls how many people helped his family when they moved to the area.
“There was a huge community here that supported us, provided us furniture, clothing, just to kind of get embedded here in Rochester,” Ortiz said.
He said that generosity, instilled in him the desire to give back.
“There’s a lot of people that helped us along the way. So I feel it’s a responsibility for me to be able to to pay that forward to other folks that may be in the same position that I was in when when my family moved here to Rochester,” Ortiz said.
And during this time in Rochester, Ortiz has done just that. Serving on the board of numbers organizations, like the Housing Council, PathStone and Foodlink. He also works as a manufacturing manager at Gleason Works and real estate investor.
But if you asked Ortiz, he would say he’s most known for being the President of the popular Puerto Rican festival. He’s been involved in the festival for 16 years and says it’s important for him to be able to provide an event that celebrates his heritage.
“We have a lot of younger kids that are growing up in Rochester that may not have that Puerto Rican culture experience. So for us, it is an obligation to be able to showcase who we are as Puerto Ricans and educate the younger generation coming after us that may not have experienced Puerto Rico,” Ortiz said.
Through Ortiz’s numerous involvements, his brother Javier was one of his biggest supporters. The two were three years apart, but Ortiz said they were always close.
Javier was a Staff Sergeant in the marines and always had a desire to serve his country.
“He was deployed a few times to Afghanistan or Iraq, he went to Japan for about a year in Okinawa. And overall, you could just see the the excitement he had for for the Marines,” Ortiz said.
While Javier lived with his family in North Carolina, Orlando said he would often come to Rochester to support his brother. Ortiz remembers his brother coming to town to run in the Puerto Rican Festival’s 5K race.
Ortiz said they would fly the Puerto Rican flag before the race and sing the U.S. national anthem, but that year, Javier had an idea for his brother.
“He’s like, ‘Hey, I know you guys do the national anthem, but I don’t see you guys raising a flag. Why not?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. It’s a Puerto Rican festival. We just raised the Puerto Rican flag. And he goes, why don’t we do this? You know, why don’t you while I’m away, in Afghanistan, purchase a flag and just throw it in the pack? I’ll raise it in Afghanistan, fly for a little bit. And I’ll mail it back to you,” Ortiz recalls.
However, Javier never got the chance to send that flag.
On November 16th of 2010, military members approached Ortiz’s door in Rochester. His brother had been killed with an IED.
“Essentially he was a squad leader… and they had identified an area of potential bombs, explosives. And they call them the bomb squad, I guess,” Ortiz said. “And instead of waiting for the bomb squad, he told his whole group to kind of fall back and then he went to check it out. I don’t know why he did that, but I guess I would imagine he wanted to keep everybody else out of harm’s way.”
Javier was laid to rest at Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. Ortiz said it was one of his brother’s wishes to be buried there.
“I wish he said Rochester but I guess as a military that’s kind of an honor to be able to be laid rest with other fellow fallen and every time we go there is amazing feeling to be able to be in that in that cemetery. Just everything is just so perfect down there,” Ortiz said.
It’s been more than a decade since Javier’s death, but his legacy and love for others and his country continues to inspire Ortiz’s efforts in the community.
After his brother’s passing, the Puerto Rican festival’s 5K race was named after his brother. It’s now called the Staff Sergeant Javier Ortiz Memorial 5K race.
Ortiz said he also now flies an American Flag in honor of his brother… and not just any American flag.
Six months after his brother died, Ortiz received some surprising news from a solider that worked with Javier.
“One of his his soldiers said, ‘Hey, your brother your brother actually raised the flag in Afghanistan, he raised it and we flew it and we have it here and they gave it to me, which was an amazing feeling to have,” Ortiz said while choking up.
“Now every year we fly the US flag and the Puerto Rican festival. It’s another opportunity for me to remember him in everything that I do,” Ortiz said.
The Staff Sergeant Javier Ortiz Memorial 5K race takes place over Father’s Day weekend at Seneca Park Zoo. It’s held that weekend as a way to pay tribute to Javier, who was a father of two himself, and all other dads.
“We get a lot of support from other military branches, sometimes you see marine groups together, running together, and just supporting. And it’s just great to be able to have our family there. And for every community come out and be supportive of not only my family, but just for the health and wellness of themselves as well,” Ortiz said.
Ortiz says the race is a good way to celebrate both his brother and the Puerto Rican community and culture here in Rochester.