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Latino Politics in the U.S.
Kendall-Hunt, 2012 (2005)
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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Contestación a Edgardo Rodríguez Julia Sobre Calle 13

Me siento muy decepcionado con Rodriguez Julia,   y su columna La calle al reves. Uno que se lanzo la marea con su obra sobre El Entierro de Cortijo elevando la cultural popular Afro Boricua y ahora con estas insolencias y sandeces? El dramaturgo Ramos Perea le da una certera leccion.


Contestación a Edgardo Rodríguez JuliÁ

sobre el tema de Calle 13 y el Ateneo.



Por Roberto Ramos-Perea

Dramaturgo Puertorriqueño

Asombrosa la columna “La calle al revés” del día 15 de enero de este año en El Nuevo Día, del escritor Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá. La discuto.



Calificar “el arte contemporáneo” como “mierda”, es prueba suficiente de que el compañero tiene algún resentimiento en el que se incluye con beneplácito en el oloroso apelativo, pues sus novelas ciertamente son parte de eso que llamamos “arte contemporáneo”.



Señala este novelista que “basta que a alguien se le ocurra una idea, o un “concepto” y, ¡eureka!, se trata de una obra de arte y un artista”. Bueno… ¿y no se supone que sea así? Todas las grandes reacciones a lo establecido como arte se han regido por ese sencillo principio. Así nació el renacimiento, la ilustración, el barroco, el neoclásico, el romanticismo, el realismo, las vanguardias y el arte posmoderno. Es decir, que este notable escritor elimina de un plumazo la naturaleza misma de la evolución artística. Desafortunada aseveración de un profesor universitario.



Para sostener su argumento exige que todo artista deba acudir a las aulas a educarse en los principios de su arte, -cosa a la que nadie podría oponerse- y sentencia que “quizá, algún día” ese hipotético artista pueda convertirse en genio. Vaya, ¡tan largo me lo fiáis! El artista según Rodríguez Juliá tiene que complacer los criterios y el gusto de los que dominan el oficio, pasar su censura, cedazo y gusto, para merecer llamarse artista. ¿Quiénes son esos y quién les dio la autoridad para decidir cosa tan trascendental a la evolución del arte?  ¿Se considera él, uno de ellos? El, que concibió e intentó, como un ¡eureka! un arte de novelar testimonial que si bien agradó a  muchos, también puso a desproticar a otros que consideraron que El entierro de Cortijo era “una mierda” de novela. Decir tamaña cosa sobre la necesidad del estudio para quedar autorizado a la expresión artística nos llevaría a quemar las obras de Van Gogh, por ejemplo, porque nunca tomó un curso de dibujo o la misma música de Cortijo, Maelo, y tantos soneros de los que el escritor es fanático, simplemente porque no estudiaron en el Conservatorio de Música.



Dice este novelista que Puerto Rico “es un país a medio hacer” (juicio de Puerto Rico que es remedo del de Jacinto de Salas y Quiroga, poeta español “Puerto Rico es el cadáver de una sociedad que no ha nacido”. 1839.). Bueno, muchos creen con más asertividad que este es un país “a medio gobernar”. Si el compañero confunde los despóticos gobiernos que hemos tenido con las insuficiencias que el pueblo ha padecido por esa misma causa, entonces el compañero no conoce lo que es resistencia, nacionalidad, identidad y producción cultural a la que él mismo ha contribuido con su quehacer. Si es el país y no su gobierno el que está “a medio hacer”, él mismo tiene buena parte de la culpa por apoyar a gobiernos que han “medio hecho” al país.



Se lamenta que “los puertorriqueños inventamos el reguetón”. Si busca en el mismo Google a donde él nos ha mandado, se dará cuenta de que no es una invención del todo nuestra, sino una fusión de muchos intentos y ritmos de otras latitudes que en el proceso dinámico de influencias e intercambios, crea una singularidad que algunos han llamado “nuestra” y que tiene todo el derecho de ser “machacona cantaleta” y a quien debe concedérsele, en aras de la “democracia” creativa, “la rabia lumpen”. Hace tiempo que los intelectuales debieron dejar de usar la palabra “lumpen” porque en su despreciable relatividad, dice más de nosotros, que de lo que realmente queremos cualificar. Sería bueno que Rodríguez Juliá tuviese la pública oportunidad de definir ese “lumpen”. Sobretodo desde una óptica socialista e igualitaria, y ante todo justa. Llamar lumpen al títere de la calle, al tecato, al asesino, al drogo, es ante todo un reduccionismo capitalista –e infantilista de izquierda- que desconoce las razones políticas, sociales y culturales de nuestra miseria moral. Pero esa frase ante todo, es un desprecio de blancos.



  Al llamar al reguetón “horrible música”, no deja mucho espacio a la valoración justa de un género que puede ganarse todo nuestro disgusto, pero no podemos, en respeto a la inteligencia negarle su originalidad, su misión como vocero de realidades que no se conocen en Guaynabo City donde vive Rodríguez Juliá. ¿Por qué negarle el mérito de ser expresión genuina de la violencia de nuestras calles, de nuestros bajos fondos, de corrupción moral, de miserias y también, ¿por qué no?, de nuestras esperanzas, sueños, sexualidad, anhelos, amores y afectos? ¿No es eso lo que hace el arte de la novela que practica el colega, y que practico yo en el teatro? Sí, obvio, pero no andamos por ahí, en respeto a nuestra inteligencia y nuestra capacidad crítica, vomitando lo “horrible” que es la literatura puertorriqueña. ¿Por qué? Porque se trataría de meros y baratos gustos y opiniones y los años nos han enseñado que de gustos y opiniones no se discute.



El colega escritor remata con refinísima blancura aristocrática que “la popularidad global de Calle 13 sólo es prueba de que el gusto actual está en el mero “anus mundi”. ¿Dónde realmente queda el “anus mundi”? ¿En la antípoda del “anus blancus”?



Comparar las penurias y sacrificios de los jóvenes que componen la Sinfónica Juvenil de Venezuela “que dominaron el solfeo”, con “chamacos frescos de la clase media puertorriqueña, versión Trujillo Alto, que asaltaron la fama de los nueve Grammys latinos”, es una símil traída por los pelos, pues hablamos de espacios sociales diferenciados e intervenidos por elementos foráneos que a su vez crean productos culturales propios de su contexto, ¿por qué omitir esto tan obvio para marronear un argumento? Si no le gusta la canción Latinoamérica de Calle 13, derecho tiene. Pero no me haga pasar su opinión como un criterio de excelencia.



  Llamar “autócrata” a Chávez nos obligaría a preguntar si el colega tiene algún otro autócrata en mente que haya influenciado a Calle 13, el país donde nació y la música que canta. Nos parece caprichosa y colorida la designación de un político que puede no ser simpático a mucha gente, pero ¡qué curioso!, mira de dónde viene el reaccionario apelativo, de un escritor en un país donde ¿no manda también un autócrata, que no tendrá petróleo, pero ha sido todo un experto en el robo de fondos federales y en la explotación de su pueblo?



El ataque al escritor Eduardo Galeano nos suena a sangrado personal. Llamar simplista a una de las voces más potentes en el análisis de lo que es y ha sido la resistencia latinoamericana –cosa que él mismo no podría negar si realmente la conociera y la juzgara con sencillos principios y valores socializantes, es harto simplista. Digo, yo me imagino que Rodríguez Julia como intelectual y escritor ostenta en su escala de valores, valores socializantes y democráticos, me parece. Si no es así, que aclare a qué valores sirve su obra. Digo, para estar claros de con quién hablamos, ¿no?



Si para este escritor puertorriqueño el imperio yanqui no es maligno, entonces enmudecemos por asombro… ¡nada más que hablar!, desde 1898, según él, hemos vivido en las papas. Y entonces, ¡ya apareció el peine! Y lo justifica con la atroz generalidad de señalar que los latinoamericanos prefieren ir a Estados Undios a ser esclavos, que luchar por sus países. Coño… esto es afrentoso, no solo contra los emigrantes a quienes ha llamado menos que mierda, sino contra los millones de muertos caídos en las luchas antiimperialistas latinoamericanas y puertorriqueñas, a quienes ha llamado en palabras “finas”, cobardes y pendejos.



Entonces su simplismo se pone necio al señalar que tal lucha es una cursilería izquierdizante que convenció a los “sabios del Ateneo” y a “Luis Gutiérrez”. Y luego de este derechismo fascista tan apabullante podría acabar nuestra discusión con una buena andanada de insultos. Pero prefiero recordar que este escritor fue el que un día entró al Ateneo y admirando la Galería de Puertorriqueños Ilustres entre los que se encontraba Betances, Albizu, Segundo, Tapia, Hostos, Julia de Burgos, De Diego, dijo con desparpajo insolente, “¿quienes son todos esos viejos chivús y qué habían hecho para estar allí?” Y que no lo niegue porque soy testigo. Tal vez desde allá vienen los resentimientos de este escritor con el Ateneo. Pues le informo que sí, que en el Ateneo hay sabios. Los ha habido, los hay y los habrá, si sabiduría es la iluminada presencia de la combinación entre la inteligencia y la sensibilidad, el respeto por el pasado, la comprensión del presente, la compasión por el futuro y el compromiso de mejorarlo y sobre todo la madurez de la tolerancia. De esta sabiduría, Rodríguez Juliá no tiene ninguna y el Ateneo tiene 138 años de lucha y logro por la identidad de la Nación puertorriqueña.



Dice además que “René y Calle 13, quien cuenta entre sus grandes virtudes patrióticas haber insultado a Fortuño e insinuado la afición al dulce de coco por el alcalde Santini”… bueno, tal vez entre las grandes virtudes patrióticas debería estar la expresión de la indignación y el ridículo para el que ostenta el poder “autocráticamente”. Que bien estaría si todos expresáramos la reacción fuerte, vigorosa, insultante y clara contra el que nos ofende y nos ultraja… y no la petulancia de creerse estar por encima de la indignación con una herramienta tan pueril como la soberbia intelectualoide, la indiferencia y la indolencia. ¡Ojalá y todos pudiéramos insultar y ridiculizar al Gobernador en el espacio público que él lo hace todos los días!, y aún haciéndolo, no igualaríamos jamás al insulto, ultraje y desvergüenza que Fortuño y Santini han derramado sobre su pueblo en todos sus años de desgobierno.



Sobre si Oscar López merece más la medalla que Calle 13, bueno, sobre eso no hay discusión sino una aclaración. Oscar López ha dado su vida por esta patria, y por esa razón, el Día de la Bandera, la máxima actividad de afirmación identataria que hace el Ateneo, se le dedicó a Oscar López Rivera. En su nombre se izó una bandera que es la bandera de todos los puertorriqueños, -puede ser que no sea la de Rodríguez Julía-, pero sí es la de todos. No hay medalla –llámese como se llame- que supere ese honor que el Ateneo otorga. Y ese honor lo recibió ese inmenso patriota que es Oscar López Rivera, a quien el Ateneo ha honrado, no solo ese día, sino en varias otras ocasiones que Rodríguez Juliá desconoce por su encierro en su finísima Torre de Marfil.



El izamiento de la enseña nacional se le ha dedicado al Movimiento Estudiantil de la UPR, a muchos otros patriotas y a la bandera misma. El que el Ateneo acuñe una medalla con el rostro del Padre de la Patria, es precisamente un símbolo de que quienes la reciben, viven y luchan por las mismas cosas que Betances luchó. Calle 13 ha integrado a Puerto Rico al alma latinoamericana a través de su canciones y su insobornable compromiso con las luchas igualitarias de nuestro continente latinoamericano. Esto ha sido reconocido, no solo por el Ateneo sino por todos las hermanas repúblicas latinoamericanas. Aquí, este “gobierno” a medio hacer, no le permite un concierto.



¿Ganó notoriedad el Ateneo por esta acción? Después de 138 años de lucha por la identidad nacional, después de izar la bandera sola en los jardines del Ateneo, después de sobreponernos a gobiernos tiránicos como el de Roselló y Fortuño, y ahora a las sabidurías inamibles de Liza Fernández, ¿necesita el Ateneo “la notoriedad y celebridad de los nueve Grammys”?  No creo.



En el ejercicio de su libertad, (o mejor decir: porque le dio la realísima gana), el Ateneo ha hecho este merecido homenaje a Calle 13 y se refirma en él. Aunque yo no puedo hablar en su nombre porque soy solo uno en una Junta de 17 personas de criterios diferentes –como institución de tribuna libre y democrática- , sentencio desde mi criterio, que esto es así.



Tras años de status quo con respecto al rol del Ateneo ante la sociedad, el nuevo Ateneo ha decidido que se debe a su pueblo más que sus intelectuales. Ha decidido democratizar su labor a la gente a la quien sirve. Esto no se pudo hacer por mucho tiempo, pues presidió el Ateneo una forma de pensar muy blanca y elitista, para quien Calle 13 representaría lumpen, incultura y poca finura. Ahora, con la nueva Junta, el pueblo puertorriqueño recibe al Ateneo como lo que siempre debió ser, la Casa de la Patria, no una égida de intelectuales blancos, temerosos del gobierno, dedicados a escucharse entre ellos mismos. El Homenaje a Calle 13, al prisionero político Oscar López y la colocación de la estatua del proscrito Betances, ratifican ese compromiso inalienable del Ateneo con su pueblo.



Creo que el frívolo es Rodríguez Juliá, el que necesita revisar sus nociones de puertorriqueñidad es él, ya que sus ideas políticas han hablado con inmensa claridad sobre el olímpico salto que acaba de dar. Es una pena. Por esta misma razón, las futuras generaciones tendrán que buscar a Rodríguez Juliá, no en sus obras, sino en el “Rincón del vago”, en Google.http://www.elnuevodia.com/columna-lacallealreves-1165438.html

Monday, January 16, 2012

“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition” Surprise, Fear and Fanaticism in Tucson


Rudy is one of the founders of Chicano Studies as a discipline in the USA, also founder of the largest department in Chicano Studies in the nation, at Cal State Northridge.  

Rough Draft
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”
Surprise, Fear and Fanaticism in Tucson
By
Rodolfo F. Acuña

One of the little pleasures I have in life is waiting for the Saturday mail to bring The New Yorker to my door. Reading the magazine gives me a couple hours of escape; it is well-written and I can never predict the direction its conversations will take.  

For instance, this week (Jan 16, 2012) the Inquiring Minds section reviews “The Spanish Inquisition.” The article is introduced by a Monty Python sketch where one of the members of the group, Michael Palin, announces “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”

The author Adam Gopnik explores the history of the institution, relating the lessons to today; taking it from “Torquemada[i] to Dick Cheney, and from Guantánamo to Rome,” asking where were the others “when Giordano Bruno is burned to death…”[ii]

The theme of the Gopnik piece is that society always looks to the past for symbols of cruelty which inevitably are based on “surprise, fear…and fanatical devotion.” The gestapo, the K.G.B., the Stasi share similar profiles. Gopnik includes Guantánamo and the “more than twelve hundred government organizations [in the U.S. that] focus on national-security concerns…they have a forebear in Torquemada and the men in the red hats.” Like in the past, today’s torturers always act with surprise, fear and fanaticism, covering their actions with excuses of regret and necessity.

Gopnik is not an apologist for the Inquisition, commenting on the work of a revisionist historian, he writes, “his mordant point is not so much that the Inquisition doesn’t deserve its reputation for cruelty as that its victims don’t deserve theirs for moral courage.”  There is always complicity with cruelty in the name orthodoxy such as in the case of Arizona.

Anti-Semitism, racism, and fanatical nationalism are imbedded in the oppressors’ culture. “The Spanish Inquisition didn’t have any real interest in saving the Jews’ soul; they just wanted their houses and their money.” Thus, the purpose of the Inquisition was not to erase Jewish identity (or that of the Moslems) but to remove them as competitors.

This treachery can be compared to the abolishment of the Mexican Studies program in Tucson – civic leaders really don’t care if Mexicans go to school, just as long as they keep on making money off them and they learn what they want them to learn. Anti-Mexican feelings, racism and fanatical nationalism are imbedded in Tucson’s Torquemada culture. The truth be told, Latino identity a barrier to the inquisitors ends.

Acts of surprise, fear and fanaticism are hidden under the cover of regret and necessity.  “The point of an inquisition is to reduce its victims to abstractions, and abandoning the effort to call their pain back to particular life…”  Bruno’s sin was that he included a plurality of worlds with equal weight.

Even to this day the Pope says he is sorry that the Inquisition occurred. That is not acceptable to critics who want the Pope to say he is ashamed.  Likewise it is not enough for society to say that it is sorry for slavery, and the lynching of blacks, browns and Asians. It is not enough to be sorry for keeping blacks and browns uneducated, society should be ashamed of it, just the same as Americans should be ashamed of Abu Ghraib, the pissing on the bodies of dead soldiers, the abolishment of the Tucson Mexican American Studies program, and the censorship of books.

In typical Torquemada fashion Tucson Unified School District inquisitors, Mark Stegeman, Michael Hicks, Miguel Cuevas and Alexandre Borges Sugiyama abolished the district’s highly successful Mexican American Studies program at the direction of the lord inquisitors in Phoenix. Now they are banning books.  

Among the censored books are Leslie Marmon Silko, Rethinking Columbus, William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed,  Rodolfo Acuña, Occupied America, Arturo Rosales, Chicano!: The History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement and Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic, Critical Race Theory, in addition to a dozen other books.

Thus far, there has been no comment from the American Civil Liberties Union or progressives in the United States.  Apparently they do not see the parallel in what is happening in Tucson, and what happened in South Africa under apartheid, the burning of the books by the Spaniards in Middle America, or, for that matter, Germany in the1920s and 30s.

Censorship is criminal. We live in a world of knowledge; books and education give us access to that knowledge; if we are deprived of it, the inquisitors deny us the right to make rational choices.  

Arizona schools have abandoned its mission to educate students; they have intentionally denied Mexican American students access to knowledge. Consequently the Arizona bureaucracy has deliberately kept them in the fields, the mines and the prisons, hoping to deny them alternatives.  

The purpose of critical thinking is to give students alternatives and to dispel myths and repel blind allegiance to those who deny them alternatives.

According to the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, “Censorship reflects society's lack of confidence in itself.  It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.”

The motivation of the TUSD Trustees cannot be explained in terms of greed alone. It cannot be rationalized by culture alone.  Money and personal gain play a role. “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” but it’s there.

Of the Tucson gaggle the only honest one is Hicks, who is openly a racist and limited intelligence. The failed scholar Stegeman is stuck on the promotion ladder. He’ll never make it to full professor without support of politicos.  Sugiyama is a bad scholar and a worse teacher; his only chance for a full time position is to sell his posterior. The pitiful Cuevas just wants acceptance from rich white people in the city.

Monty Python and others can laugh at the fanaticism of the past; however, it is hard to laugh at today’s inquisitors. It is easier to turn the other way, La zorra nunca se ve la cola (The Skunk Doesn’t See Its Tail).  

So, what can we do? We have no choice but to “Fight Back!”


[i] Tomás de Torquemada was the first  Grand Inquisitor of Spain, appointed by the pope in 1483.
[ii] Giordano Bruno was an Italian 16th century Dominican friar who the Roman Inquisition found guilty of heresy for writing that the sun was not only the center of the universe but a star in a universe of other inhabited planets. Bruno was burnt at the stake.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Shortening the gap between the two Puerto Rican camps

De mi amigo Edwin Melendez, Universidad de Puerto Rico. Interesante propuesta.


Shortening the gap between the two Puerto Rican camps

Héctor Meléndez





According to the last census there are now more Puerto Ricans in the United States than on the island. How could this demographic change provide for an original electoral action linking the two camps of the Puerto Rican people, that of the island and that of the mainland? Could it be possible a network devoted to elect US congressmen and state legislators familiar with Puerto Rico and able to contribute to a new relation of political forces both on the island and in US?

Luis Gutiérrez, a Puerto Rican and congressman for Illinois, has intervened in Puerto Rico’s public debates denouncing the gas pipeline project and violations of civil rights by the police in the island. Could more congressmen/women be elected, and, like Gutiérrez, take a stand on the problems of the Hispanic island? It may be a new means to relate Puerto Ricans on the island with those living in the States.

New waves of migration have modified the Puerto Rican community in the US. Many of the new migrants bring to the US labor market new levels of productivity, manifested on academic degrees and intellectual-technological work. Traveling back and forth is common among Puerto Ricans, thereby constituting, as some authors put it, a commuting nation. In the meantime the island increasingly lacks an economy of its own.

Young in average, Puerto Ricans share features of the so-called global postmodernity: a fluidity of empirical and material life vis a vis old solid structures which used to organize time and space universally; “vaporizacion” of society or “liquid modernity” given a reduction of the weight of institutions on individuals and a declining moral legitimacy of the ruling classes and government; individualism and even narcisism rooted in consumption and technology; submission to image and telecommunications; and integration into a new globalized, inter-ethnic, skeptical, and more insecure and exploited proletariat.

But Puerto Ricans also share a specific tension of their own, related to the frustration of their nationhood. They want to put forward a common historical existence, and thus impulses for collective action and civic mobilization come out, if often short-lived. Perhaps a silent feeling of orphanhood, so to say, exists among Puerto Ricans: a need of love and a stable community of their own, the want of a home. This absence may provoke discontent, even rage, which in its turn seems to relate to daily social violence.

American citizenship was granted in 1917 to individual Puerto Ricans, not to a collective nation or a Puerto Rican community. Citizenship reinforced US rule on Puerto Rico and formalized rights and obligations of Puerto Ricans insofar they were individuals taking part in the US market and armed forces. In the so-called insular cases of early 20th century, the Supreme Court maintained that Puerto Rico belonged to, yet it was not a part of, the US. Thereby it insisted on the subordinated (colonial) status of Puerto Rico, while recognizing rights of Puerto Rican individuals. For the US government, then, Puerto Rico is not a body politic. It is a social and cultural body only in so far is an object of federal bureaucratic, strategic or budgetary decision-making.

Now, the US government prevents Puerto Ricans living in the US from voting in the island’s elections. (They will not vote in the upcoming plebiscite, President Obama stated in 2011.) By contrast, many other countries facilitate the vote of their emmigrant nationals. The Dominican Republic, for instance, last year approved a law not only reassuring the right of Dominicans residing in foreign nations to vote in the Dominican elections, but also granting their right to elect representatives of their communities in the US, Puerto Rico, Spain, France, etc. to the Santo Domingo parliament.

Preventing Puerto Ricans on the island to vote in the US elections indicates the federal concept that the island is not a part of the US. Preventing Puerto Ricans living in the US to vote in the island’s elections indicates the federal concept that Puerto Ricans, including their huge migrant mass, do not constitute a social-political community in their own right.

This mechanical and disdainful approach from the American government is partly made possible by the gap created between Puerto Ricans of the island and those living in the States.

Puerto Rican migration into the US mainland was stimulated by US policies from early 20th century onwards. It may be said that the conservative aspects of Puerto Rican nationalism, as it emerged historically, and a culture of localism and “criollismo” daily promoted on the island by the media, have contributed to the gap between Puerto Ricans in the US and those in the island. These factors, however, fit into Washington’s policy, which assumes “Puerto Rico” is the island alone.

In US law, then, rights exist for Puerto Rican individuals but not for Puerto Rico. It is a big contrast with the American continuous celebration of its own national collective ego. Discussing Puerto Rican issues in Congress and the states legislatures could be a means to approach the diaspora-determined reality of the Caribbean country.

(The author teaches social sciences at the University of Puerto Rico.)

Published 8 January 2012 in  the Puerto Rico Daily Sun. 

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Puerto Rican Diaspora and the Political Status of Puerto Rico






Note: Who should decide Puerto Rico's future political status? As all Latinos know, and some non-Latinos, the term "Latino" or "Hispanic" is merely an umbrella term to lump all Spanish-speakers together. Unfortunately, in lumping Latinos all together, there is an assumption that Latinos are all the same. 



Not true. There is one sub-group of Latinos that actually has US citizenship, though they're born in their own country. They are the only "Latinos" who have this privilege -- Puerto Ricans. For years, there has been an ongoing debate on the island of whether or not Puerto Rico gains its independence or becomes a U.S. state. Until now, the debate has primarily taken place either on the island or among Puerto Ricans. 



On September 13, 2011, the debate was finally taken to Congress. For the first time ever a political forum regarding the status of the island was organized in Congress by the community group, The University of Puerto Rico Alumni and Friends Abroad Association (UPRAA). The forum was a discussion and not a political hearing. The event, held on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, featured representatives of the three parties' ideologies of the island: those in favor of statehood; those in favor of the current status and those wanting independence.  



Setting the stage for the discussion was Dr. Edwin Meléndez, director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College (CUNY), New York. Dr. Meléndez explained the island's evolving history and the unique situation it finds itself in these days that has the potential to impact any debate on the future political status of Puerto Rico. 



The following is Dr. Meléndez's opening presentation for the Sept. 13 forum "Puerto Rico at its Political Crossroads: A forum to discuss the political future of the island."  



--- Latina Lista 



The Puerto Rican Diaspora and the Political Status of Puerto Rico 

By Edwin Melendez

Latina Lista (September 23, 2011) 



There is no topic that incites as much passion among Puerto Ricans as the political status of the island. However, very rarely do stateside Puerto Ricans get an opportunity to discuss this topic with Puerto Rican leaders from the island.  



Today I will examine the political status of Puerto Rico from a perspective acknowledging the role and rights of the Puerto Rican people in diaspora. 



The origins of the Puerto Rican migration to the United States can be traced to the Latin American wars for independence and to the development of trade networks in the Northeast cities of New York, Hartford, and Boston during the early nineteenth century.  



Shortly after the Spanish government lost Puerto Rico to the United States, the American government actively promoted migration as a solution to unemployment and poverty on the island.  



By the end of the Second World War, advances in air transportation and economic policies induced the first of several significant exoduses from the island. It is estimated that over 400,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States in the late 1940s and 1950s. Even larger waves were estimated for the 1980s and over the last decade.  



All in all, today the majority of Puerto Ricans reside in the United States, not on the island of Puerto Rico. According to the 2010 Census, there are 4.6 million Puerto Ricans in the U.S., with only 3.5 million on the island, excluding foreigners. About one-third of those currently residing in the United States were born in Puerto Rico.  



Puerto Ricans are dispersed across all states, with concentrations in New York, Florida, and New Jersey. Though the majority of Puerto Ricans still reside in New York, demographic projections suggest that by the end of this decade the number of Puerto Ricans in Florida will surpass those in New York. 



The Political Status and the Diaspora 



The question for consideration today is what role, if any, stateside Puerto Ricans should or could play in the determination of the future political status of Puerto Rico?  



For the first time in history, the question of the future status of Puerto Rico is being discussed when a majority of the Puerto Ricans do not reside in the territory. In other words, I will examine whether 57 percent of the Puerto Rican people will have a voice and vote in the determination of their destiny.  



Stateside Puerto Ricans play a critical role in the political process for any congressional action. Excluding the Resident Commissioner, who is elected to that body by the island population, there are currently four members of the United States House of Representatives of Puerto Rican descent. 



Besides the direct connection of the congressional delegation to Puerto Ricans in their districts, there is a vast network of elected local officials and other civic leaders who greatly influence Congress and public opinion on this matter.  



Stateside Puerto Ricans, whether they are born in Puerto Rico or not, are critical stakeholders because they influence the political process in the United States well beyond the congressional legislative process. Puerto Ricans have been elected to city, county, and state offices and they are active leaders in both the Democratic and Republican parties.  



Then there is the potential participation of stateside Puerto Ricans in a referendum. To date, the House of Representatives has undertaken the question of Puerto Rico's status and approved legislation on two occasions; the Senate has considered but never passed legislation on this matter.  



The prevailing view as stated in the most recently approved legislation in the House of Representatives supports that all United States citizens born in Puerto Rico but residing in the 50 states would have a vote in the plebiscite, but not those who were not born in Puerto Rico. 



Stateside Puerto Ricans also are critical stakeholders because they maintain economic and social ties with the island, which are critical to its economy and social fabric. Using tourism as an indicator of the constant flow of Puerto Ricans to the island, about two-thirds [63.4 percent in 2010] of visitors to the island stay in other places than hotels. [This number excludes visitors to the island who are not simply in a cruise ship stop or transient military personnel].  



Even when we do not consider those Puerto Ricans who stay in hotels, it is reasonable to assume that a significant portion of the island's tourism is from stateside Puerto Ricans who are visiting family, on vacation, or conducting business. We go on vacations, we purchase merchandise, and we visit restaurants. We are renting former primary homes, we have second homes or other real estate property, or we invest in businesses.  



Some of our children take advantage of the island's educational system. And after retirement, some of us plan to live or spend a significant portion of our time on the island. In short, we are a significant group of consumers and investors in the island economy. 



Given recent trends in migration, the economic impact of stateside Puerto Ricans on the island's economy is likely to grow over the next decades. All things considered, it is in the best interest of Puerto Rico's residents to strengthen the ties that bind us to our homeland.  



In this context, one can make the argument that the active, broad engagement of stateside Puerto Ricans, whether island born or descendants, is critical for a resolution to the question of the status of Puerto Rico.  



Stateside Puerto Ricans should be encouraged to become involved in the decision- making process of the status of Puerto Rico question. Consequently, all U.S. citizens of Puerto Rican descent should also participate in any referendum.  



Referendums on the Status Questions 



So what is the historical record of stateside Puerto Ricans' participation in Puerto Rico status referendums? 



Since the creation of the Commonwealth in 1952, there have been three local referendums on the political status of Puerto Rico [in 1967, 1993, and 1998], and a referendum held in 1991 seeking to amend the Puerto Rican constitution to ensure certain rights or principles when deciding Puerto Rico's political status.  



Stateside Puerto Ricans did not participate in any of these local initiatives. However, Congress has examined the status question on several occasions, and these processes have opened the door for the consideration of the role and participation of Puerto Ricans who do not reside in Puerto Rico. 



In 1989, Senators Johnston and McClure introduced the Puerto Rico Status Referendum Act (S.712) which called for a referendum to be held in 1991. Though this bill died in congressional committee and never reached a vote, it served as the foundation for subsequent local efforts in 1991 and 1993, and more significantly it ignited the engagement of the stateside Puerto Rican community on the question of the status of Puerto Rico. 



In 1998, the United States-Puerto Rico Political Status Act (H.R. 856) passed in the House but not in the Senate. It stated that Puerto Ricans would not be allowed to vote in the election.  



Congressman Serrano presented an amendment to allow U.S. citizens of Puerto Rican descent residing in the 50 states to vote in the plebiscite, but it also was defeated, by a vote of 356 to 57. 



In 2007, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act of (H.R. 900), a successor of H.R 856, never had enough votes to carry a debate. 



In 2009, the Puerto Rico Democracy Act (H.R. 2499, a successor to H.R. 900 from 2007), was passed by the House with bi-partisan support. Under this act, all United States citizens born in Puerto Rico would have been eligible to participate in the plebiscite, but not those of Puerto Rican descent.  



An unsuccessful referendum bill that was proposed by Senators Johnston and McClure in 1991 (S.712) provides a case study for the potential role of the stateside Puerto Rican community in future plebiscites on the status of Puerto Rico. With the active endorsement and participation of the Puerto Rican political leadership, the Committee Pro-Puerto Rican Participation (CPPRP hereafter) was created to insure the right of the Puerto Rican people "to vote in the Puerto Rican plebiscite."  



In addition to advocating for the participation of all Puerto Rican people born on the island, the committee advocated a key principle in the resolution of Puerto Rico's political status: that the results of the plebiscite would be binding to the U.S Congress. The campaign was nonpartisan with respect to the status options and a broad range of civic and political leaders actively participated in it. 



The reasons for advocating the right of the stateside Puerto Rican people to vote in the plebiscite were simple yet powerful. Foremost, the committee advocated for a clear defense of the right to self-determination, as understood by the international community. 



The Puerto Rican people are one, whether they reside in the island or elsewhere. The referendum was considered an important event that transcended local elections because it provided a framework for the future of the country, and by implication of all the Puerto Rican people.  



The results of the referendum were likely to have a significant impact on the social and cultural conditions of all Puerto Ricans, including those residing in the United States (whether they were born there or in Puerto Rico). The committee issued several reports and was able to score several important political victories, including the holding of congressional hearings in East Harlem, New York. 



The political leadership in Puerto Rico was ambivalent, to say the least, about the participation of stateside Puerto Ricans. Early on in the process, Governor Hernandez-Colon declared his support, but a few months later he opposed an agreement reached by the sponsors of the bill in the House of Representatives.  



The agreement was crafted by emissaries from Puerto Rico's three political parties (including the Governor's own party), and the CPPRP leadership. Despite opposition from the island politicians, the efforts of the CPPRP were successful in establishing expectations for future negotiations on the status of Puerto Rico in Congress. The most recent bill - the 2009 Puerto Rico Democracy Act recently mentioned, recognizes the right of all Puerto Rico-born citizens to participate. 



Latino Diasporas and Transnational Politics 



Before providing some concluding thoughts, I would like to address an important element in the new political environment that directly affects transnational politics between Puerto Rico and the United States.  



I am referring to the growing Latino population and how the CPPRP efforts opened pathways for other populations in diaspora to engage in local politics in their countries of origin. 



The fact that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens is well known, certainly among the audience in this forum. However, the concept of dual citizenship is relevant to the question under examination.  



Immigrants who become naturalized American citizens, for example, have dual citizenship. They can carry two passports and travel freely within their native and naturalized countries. Like Puerto Ricans, they can go back and forth to their country of origin to work or live as they see fit. 



Dual citizenship is becoming more popular in many countries, for good reasons. Citizens with dual citizenship strengthen the economy of both countries by promoting trade and investment, transferring technology and knowledge, and facilitating access to a broader pool of human resources.  



Countries like India, the Philippines, and Mexico are liberalizing their citizenship laws to take advantage of the benefits of dual citizenship.  



Dual citizenship is a common practice among U.S. Latinos. Some examples of countries that encourage and take advantage of dual citizenship include Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, México, and Peru.  



An important component of dual citizenship among U.S. Latinos is that it enables them to participate in their country of origin politics. Two recent examples are: 



In May of 2004, for the first time in history, Dominicans in the U.S. voted in the presidential elections of the Dominican Republic. Roughly 52,000 throughout the United States registered to vote in the elections. 



In 2006, for the first time, Mexicans in the U.S. were allowed to vote by absentee ballot in the Mexican presidential election. About 4 million of the 10 million Mexican residents in the U.S. were eligible to participate.  


The importance of these processes to the Puerto Rican case is evident. For one, they dismiss the idea that the logistics of the electoral process are too complicated or costly. Like Puerto Ricans, these Latino communities are dispersed all over the U.S., but they have the political infrastructure and have been able to get the cooperation of stateside governments to implement electoral processes for transnational politics.



But perhaps more important, the growing political presence of Latinos in Congress will add support to initiatives of concern to Puerto Ricans and boost a more powerful coalition to resolve the status of Puerto Rico than in the past.



The Latino leadership in Congress understands perfectly the implications of the rights of the Puerto Rican people to participate in deciding the future political status of the island.



Conclusion 



In conclusion, the environment is becoming more conducive for stateside Puerto Ricans to play a larger role in the status question.



The fact that the majority of Puerto Ricans now live in the United States is a game changer: How can the future of the island be decided by a minority of our people? How can the rights of the people be denied when the political influence of the stateside Puerto Rican community is broader, more diverse than ever, and growing?



The fact that Latinos have a growing influence in the political process is a game changer as well. A broad Latino political coalition can finally induce Congress to recognize the rights of all Puerto Rican people and to make a commitment, prior to any plebiscite, to enact a bill which will be binding to the U.S Congress.



Finally, it is very important that stateside Puerto Ricans become part of the dialogue and political process about the future of Puerto Rico.



We are at a historical juncture when more and more of our families are divided, when our extended families have bilingual children and are becoming more culturally diverse, and when we seek greater connections to those living afar.



It is well known to all of us participating in this forum that there is a general lack of understanding of the stateside Puerto Ricans among the Puerto Ricans residing on the island.



I am hopeful that our participation in any referendum on the status of Puerto Rico will help strengthen social and cultural bridges between the two communities: Para los de aqui y para los de allá.



I am also hopeful that today we will engage in a civic dialogue that will mark a turning point towards the goal and aspiration of UN SOLO PUEBLO.



I leave the panelists with this question:



Do you support the right of all Puerto Ricans to vote in a status referendum?



Dr. Edwin Meléndez is director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College (CUNY), New York. He has authored or edited ten books and has managed over thirty-five research, outreach, or demonstration projects. Dr. Meléndez was the director of the Mauricio Gastón Institute for Latino Community Development and Public Policy at the University of Massachusetts Boston as well as a faculty member in the Economics Department and the Ph.D. Program in Public Policy. He also served on the faculties of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Fordham University.