Changes and challenges for Puerto Ricans in the U.S.


Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., took the floor in the U.S. Congress recently to criticize Puerto Rican Gov. Luis Fortuno for his handling of the student strike at the University of Puerto Rico. Guitierrez was addressing the ongoing protests over a new $800 fee that will have a severe impact on UPR's enrollment, given that 60 percent of students are from families with incomes of $20,000 and less.

Pedro Pierluisi, the non-voting member who represents Puerto Rico in the House (his official title is Puerto Rico's Resident Commissioner in Washington D.C.), called the speech "inappropriate and insulting to the people of Puerto Rico," adding "I am the only member of Congress who represents Puerto Rico."

But it's not so simple.

Puerto Ricans in the U.S. have strong ties with the island, and vice versa. Many people live "stateside" for years, and then retire in Puerto Rico. Others visit regularly; still others move one way or the other at different points in life to be with family.

Yet while there are these ties and of course many commonalities among all Puerto Ricans, there are also differences and divisions, both within Puerto Rican society and between the Puerto Rican community in the U.S. and those who live on the island.

A recent article by Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, entitled, "Challenges Facing Stateside Puerto Ricans in the 21st Century," reveals both new features and persistent problems.

The biggest change is that the number of Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. is now 4.2 million, compared to 3.5 million in Puerto Rico, making this the first time since 1910 that Puerto Rico's population has declined as the stateside population increased, "reflecting an outmigration from Puerto Rico perhaps as great as that of the 1940s."

What are some of the political ramifications of this change?

Falcon says this shift "poses some interesting questions about the relationship between the two communities."

There are three veteran Puerto Rican members of Congress who represent areas with large Puerto Rican and Latino communities: Nydia Velásquez and José Serrano from New York, and Luis Gutierrez from Chicago - all Democrats. (In last fall's midterm election, right-wing Republican Raul Labrador was also elected from Idaho.)

According to Falcon, these lawmakers, who are "stateside" Puerto Ricans, "have come to the rescue of Puerto Rico time and time again when the U.S. federal government has treated the U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico unfairly in terms of budget and other policy matters." He continues, "On the other hand, Puerto Rico has not been as supportive of the development of the stateside Puerto Rican community as it could be."

Some of this is obviously attributable to the base - poor, working-class communities, heavily Democratic - that elects these U.S. congresspeople. By contrast, the power structure in Puerto Rico is contested and includes Republicans (or their equivalent) and corporate interests.

Falcon points to "commentary in Washington, D.C., about how Island corporate and political interests have ... displaced the core mission of the only stateside Puerto Rican national civil rights organization inside the Beltway, the National Puerto Rican Coalition (NPRC), turning it into a largely lobbying firm for those interests."

Falcon notes that "the stateside Puerto Rican reality has become more complex than ever." And he describes demographic changes that may have political ramifications. "Where New York City was once home to 80 percent of the Puerto Ricans residing in the United States, today less than a quarter live in the Big Apple, although it remains the largest concentration with close to 800,000 Puerto Ricans."

Meanwhile, he continues, "The big story ... is the ‘Florida phenomenon.' Florida [now] has the second largest concentration of Puerto Ricans of all the states with 728,637 in 2009 (4 percent of the state's population)."

The article notes growing economic disparity in the Puerto Rican population, which "has become more diverse, [with] the development over time of a geographic economic polarization, with high poverty areas in the traditionally Puerto Rican regions of the Northeast and Midwest, and more affluence in more newly settled areas in the South and West."

Finally, the article looks at the relationship between the Puerto Rican population and the larger Latino community, noting "the challenge of the seemingly growing invisibility of specifically stateside Puerto Rican issues."

He continues, "Issues for the Puerto Rican community are not identical to issues for Latinos overall, where immigration rights are at the top of the agenda," although "Puerto Ricans have and continue to play a leading role in the struggle for the protection of immigrant rights," despite the fact that Puerto Ricans were made citizens in 1917.

For the stateside Puerto Rican community, the biggest issues are jobs, housing, and education. Puerto Rican youth, for example, have the highest high school dropout rates in New York City, and share the highest unemployment rates with African American young men.

Falcon's article is available here.

Photo: Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York, 2008. Oquendo CC 2.0 


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  • The Second Oscar – Mandela March in New York City 2015

    We will be having our 2nd Oscar – Mandela Protest March on Monday, June 22, 2015. We will start marching peacefully at 9 AM from Hunter College on East 68th Street and Lexington Avenue, to East 43rd Street and Lexington Avenue. We will then go East (turning left) to end up at the Ralph Bunche Park on First Avenue (across from the United Nations).

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    Most people don’t know that every year, usually on the Monday after Fathers’ Day, the United Nations holds its hearing about the decolonization of Puerto Rico. The petitioners will usually join our protest after this meeting.

    The UN determined in 1960 that colonialism is a crime against humanity. Since then, the UN has issued 33 resolutions asking for the US government to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico. The US government has ignored these resolutions. What kind of democracy is that?

    The US government tries to keep these hearings a secret. What we are trying to do is to get them out of the closet. The UN is in its 3rd decade trying to make the world colony-free. Please help us!

    Most people also don’t know that the United States government takes out 14 times more money than what it invests in Puerto Rico. But, that is what colonies are for!

    This savage exploitation impedes Puerto Rico’s ability to provide opportunities for Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico. That is why there are now more Puerto Ricans living away from Puerto Rico than in their homeland.

    Oscar López Rivera has been incarcerated for 34 years for his struggle to decolonize Puerto Rico. Since colonialism is an international crime, international law gives Oscar the right to use whatever means necessary to decolonize his homeland. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years for doing the same thing as Oscar. This is why we say, Oscar López Rivera is our Nelson Mandela!

    United Partners for Puerto Rico Decolonization invites the public to be part of the tsunami of people that will be necessary to make the US government comply with the UN resolutions. These annual protests in Puerto Rico and at the UN are absolutely necessary, because, those who maintain colonies, don’t believe in justice for all!

    José M López Sierra

    Posted by Jose M Lopez Sierra, 04/21/2015 7:57am (3 months ago)

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    In reality, there is only one option. The United Nations (UN) in 1960 determined that colonialism is a crime against humanity. Therefore, the only thing that Puerto Rico can do is to become her own nation. That means that the US must give Puerto Rico the sovereignty that the US illegally took away from her by virtue of the July 25, 1898 military invasion.

    Thus far, the US government has ignored the 33 UN resolutions asking it to immediately decolonize Puerto Rico. Instead, it has tried to hide these petitions, and at the same time appear to believe in democracy by pushing for plebiscites so that Puerto Ricans could decide between colonialism, being a US state, or independence (decolonization as required by the UN).

    The problem with the US pushed plebiscites are that they:

    1. don’t comply with international law that prohibits a nation to have a colony.
    2. don’t comply with international law that requires the empire to give the sovereignty it illegally took away to its colony.
    3. don’t comply with international law that requires that to have free elections, that country must be free first.
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    This is why we have to peacefully protest 3 times a year until the US government complies with the UN resolutions for Puerto Rico decolonization.

    José M López Sierra

    Posted by Jose M Lopez Sierra, 12/19/2014 6:31pm (7 months ago)

  • Dear Partner,

    After the approval of the 33rd United Nations’ resolution by consensus on June 23, 2014 asking the United States (US) to immediately decolonize of Puerto Rico, we should work together to force the United States government to comply with it.

    The facts that the United States government has maintained Puerto Rico as its colony for 116 years, has had Oscar López Rivera in prison for 33 years for fighting for Puerto Rico decolonization, and has ignored 33 UN resolutions to decolonize Puerto Rico, confirm that the US government has no intentions of ever decolonizing Puerto Rico. Therefore, we need to form a tsunami of people to force the US to comply with the 33 resolutions.

    We should peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until we achieve our goal. The first one will be a march up to the US Courthouse in Puerto Rico on the Abolition of Slavery Day on March 22. The second will be another march in Puerto Rico on a day before the UN’s Puerto Rico decolonization hearing. The third one will be a protest in New York City on the same day the UN holds its Puerto Rico decolonization hearing.

    These 3 protests are indispensable, because those who have colonies don’t believe in justice for all.

    José M López Sierra
    Comité Timón del Pueblo
    United Partners for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico

    Posted by Jose M Lopez Sierra, 07/14/2014 6:18pm (1 year ago)

  • You wrote: "There are three veteran Puerto Rican members of Congress who represent areas with large Puerto Rican and Latino communities: Nydia Velásquez and José Serrano from New York, and Luis Gutierrez from Chicago - all Democrats. (In last fall's midterm election, right-wing Republican Raul Labrador was also elected from Idaho.)"

    Why didn't you call Nydia Velásquez and Luis Gutierrez "left wing" Democrats?

    Posted by Miriam Ramirez, 03/12/2011 7:24pm (4 years ago)

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