When Dr. Miguel Cardona first took the national stage as President Joe Biden's nominee for education secretary, people in his hometown of Meriden were left speechless.
"Just proud," said Diana Alicea, Cardona's cousin. "Just so proud. And for him to be representing all of us, it is just an amazing thing."
Alicea said that she watched Dr. Cardona's speech through tears and cheers. One line from Dr. Cardona immediately stuck out: "And I, being bilingual and bicultural, am as American as apple pie and rice and beans."
"When he said that, my phone blew up," said Alicea.
Cardona, whose parents and grandparents moved to Connecticut from Puerto Rico, was paying homage to his upbringing and what it means to be American.
“I felt how much that can relate to anyone not just a Hispanic person," said Alicea. "It can relate to anyone that is here with different nationalities and how inclusive it is.”
His quote, both impactful and catchy.
Alicea's neighbor, Cathy Martorella, made coffee mugs with Cardona's quote on them. The mugs were initially just for family members. Martorella only expected to make a dozen.
But Alicea and Martorella then decided, with Dr. Cardona's blessing, to sell the mugs to benefit the Meriden Puerto Rican Festival Scholarship Fund.
They created a Facebook page and, overnight, were flooded with orders. They have already sold several hundreds.
“The actual mug production is in my kitchen," explained Martorella, adding that Alicea fields all of the orders from her kitchen as well.
The two ask people to have patience with them, but they are so glad that Dr. Cardona's story, the product of public education himself, is striking a chord with so many.
"The hometown pride is just ridiculous," said Martorella.
“When people are picking up their mugs they don’t all personally know him, they are just so happy a hometown boy from Meriden has made it to Washington," said Alicea.
The Puerto Rican Scholarship is open to all high school seniors in Meriden. Since beginning the scholarship fund, they have awarded upwards of $10,000.