Monday, June 13, 2011

Pobre Hijastro

Yesterday was Puerto Rican Day in NYC.
I suppose that since Puerto Ricans-- Los Boricuas-- have had such a big influence on my life and my city, I lose sight of the fact they really are second-class citizens in our nation.
This was driven home by the startling realization that President Obama's visit to the island tomorrow will be the first official visit by a sitting President since 1961, although Gerald Ford did host a G-7 summit there in 1976.
For us, it is really a momentous occasion that the president is making an official visit," Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuño, who is scheduled to meet with Obama, told POLITICO. "It will allow us the opportunity to discuss with the president important issues - just as the governor of Florida or Delaware would do if the president were to visit their state - and showcase what Puerto Rico is all about."
Now, it's true that Puerto Rico has, by its own hand, chosen to live in a limbo between statehood and independence. Citizens there cannot vote in American presidential elections, although they can hold primaries. They don't have official representation in Congress, but they can be drafted to fight and die for our country.
If Puerto Rico was a state, its GDP would rank it about 40th, ahead of New Hampshire, Idaho, Maine...and Alaska.
Now, Puerto Ricans have been accepted as US citizens since 1917. You don't need a passport to travel there, and of course, the US Dollar is the accepted currency.
It is, by all accounts, an island with a rich heritage and history, and of remarkable beauty. And it has a shrinking economy and high unemployment.
These dichotomies make it all the more mystifying to me why Presidential visits seem to be so far and few between. For the 1961 visit, the cynic in me suggests that this was a move by JFK to solidify Puerto Rico's ties to the mainland in the face of the unrest posed by the Castro regime in Cuba which probably gave rise to the FALN, a terrorist organization that was particularly busy in the 1970s.
Ford clearly threw the island a bone by holding the G-7 summit there. And then...nothing until 2011?
Very odd. Economic development on the island would go a long way to resolving the statehood question in either direction, to be sure, and yet no one's given this that level of thought? Economic development would stem the draining population, too, allowing more people to stay in their ancestral homeland.
Economic development would go a long way to helping the nation get up off the mat. It has enormous resources, a hard-working population, and a literacy rate that would make many US states proud.
And yet we deign to acknowledge it twice a century.
Pretty shameful, if you ask me.