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Latino Politics in the U.S.

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

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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. 


  1. Dear Partner,


    Those who accept colonialism believe in discrimination. Now that we know that the political parties will not solve this problem, I invite you to join the non-violent protest to demand that the United States (US) decolonize Puerto Rico (PR) immediately. It will be on Monday, June 17, 2013 from 8 AM to 5 PM outside the United Nations (UN) visitor’s entrance located on 46th Street and First Avenue in New York City.

    The UN has determined that colonialism is a crime against humanity in 1960 under Resolution 1514 (XV). That’s why the UN celebrates every year a hearing about Puerto Rico decolonization. Every year the UN puts forth a resolution asking the US to decolonize PR. Despite 30 of these resolutions, PR is still the oldest and most populated colony in the world! It is obvious by now that the US is not going to decolonize PR just because the UN asks.

    Through education, we must create a domestic and international solidarity with this cause to pressure the US to do what historically she has refused to do. This is why we need everyone who also believes that colonialism is a crime against humanity to join the protest to demand compliance to international law!

    Puerto Rico has been a colony of the US for 114 years. The US’ intention is to keep PR a colony forever unless we do something about it. It is important to note that: democracy isn’t what a government does. Democracy is what people do!
    President John F. Kennedy said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice anywhere.” These ideas, of course, are the reasons why the United Nations was created after World War II.

    It is up to us to defend the fundamental human rights that promote world peace. The tragedy of doing nothing is that we will have the kind of government that we deserve!


    José M. López Sierra

    For more information:
    Compañeros Unidos para la Descolonización de Puerto Rico

  2. Dear Partners,

    Join The First Oscar – Mandela Protest in Puerto Rico on Saturday, March 22, 2014, on the Abolition of Slavery Day, to peacefully protest for the decolonization of Puerto Rico and the release of our political prisoner Oscar López Rivera. It is the perfect day to protest the enslavement of Puerto Rico by the government of United States.

    We will march from the Roosevelt Avenue Urban Train Station at 2 PM to the United States Court in Puerto Rico on Chardón Street in Hato Rey.

    If you belong to any particular group, feel free to bring your flags and signs to our protest. We want it to be a collective effort involving everyone who believes that colonialism is a crime against humanity and a threat to world peace. We need to have as many people as possible, because those who practice or accept colonialism, don’t believe in justice for all!

    Un abrazo,

  3. 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

  4. Dear Partner,

    Since the United Nations determined in 1960 that colonialism is a crime against humanity, there is no longer a need for plebiscites. The solution is to give Puerto Rico her sovereignty.

    But being the United States government does not want to, it continues to advocate the use of plebiscites to find out what Puerto Ricans want. Even if 100% of Puerto Ricans would want to continue being a US colony, Puerto Rico would still be obligated to accept her sovereignty to then decide what she wants to do.

    The only thing these plebiscites are good for is to divide Puerto Ricans. A Puerto Rican didn’t invade us to make us a colony. When will we understand that we need to unite?

    This is why we must peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until Puerto Rico is decolonized!

    José M López Sierra