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Wising up: Puerto Rico is a part of us and the U.S.

by The Stylus
Tue, Feb 13th 2018 06:00 pm

The United States has had one of its dirtiest secrets thrust into the spotlight quite frequently over the course of the past six months. The issue of Puerto Rico’s financial instability and, by further extent, the U.S.’ role in this tumultuous moment in the island’s history, has been the topic of conversation by multiple media outlets both on the island and the mainland, following the devastation that rampaged the small island in wake of Hurricane Maria and Irma just over five months ago.

From issues regarding the island’s dilapidated infrastructure, to the threat of extreme flooding which was a huge concern following the hurricanes, to the island’s multi-billion debt to the U.S., reporters have had ample material to churn out articles and in turn, politicians have had ample time to sweat and squirm due to their lack of adequate aid and untimely reaction. Puerto Ricans have been crying “woe is me” for almost half a year, and while the U.S. government would like to just throw all the blame on the poor island’s people, there is no way for Puerto Rico to deal with this crisis without the U.S. taking ownership of its own corruption and mistreatment of both the island and its people. See, not only are people on the island struggling, but those who are already American citizens are rushing to the mainland by the millions due to inadequate support  that is slowly making its way to the Puerto Rican people.

This mass exodus means we’ll be seeing, hearing and experiencing more Puerto Rican culture on the mainland, specifically in Florida and the Rochester area, only 30 or so minutes from Brockport. As of right now, there are more Puerto Ricans on the U.S. mainland than there are on the original island of Puerto Rico. This is nothing new, as Puerto Ricans have been leaving the island in hordes for years, even before the extreme natural disasters hit. 

The LA Times estimated that approximately 700,000 Puerto Ricans made their way to the mainland between the years 2006 and 2015 alone. This was mainly due to the poor economy and lack of job availability on the island, however, in wake of Hurricane Maria, that number has increased exponentially and is expected to continue to grow. The exodus will have some impactful effects both on and off the island. 

For starters, the millions of Puerto Ricans leaving the island will make the already suffering economy disintegrate further due to lack of available workers and educated individuals. The mainland will also be hit hard with having an influx of new residents across the country. States like Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and New Jersey are only a few predicted to see an increase in the Puerto Rican population these past few months. The federal government is also looking at having to pay several billions of dollars to help repair the island. 

While these large-scale changes seem to be quite far away, local residents are beginning to experience the immediate impacts of the hurricane’s devastation. 

Walking into Brockport’s Walmart, you may notice the presence of a few more spanish speaking Puerto Ricans. Their presence within the City of Rochester has prompted several organizations to come together and offer aid to those seeking refuge, according to an article by the Democrat and Chronicle. With this spike in the Puerto Rican population, The College at Brockport, which has less than a 7 percent Hispanic demographic, could also see an increase in the number of Latino students.

While many people may feel they are fairly educated about the issue facing Puerto Rico, especially since it’s a constant presence across multimedia platforms, the truth is, a lot of what’s taken place has been several hundred years in the making. Here’s a few important historical facts to understand the state of the island of Puerto Rico and why its people are suffering so badly today.

Puerto Rico is the oldest colony in the history of the new world. With 400 years of being controlled by another entity, neither the island nor its people have had the opportunity or liberty to call the island their own. The island was owned initially by Spain from the 16th century to the 19th century, where it was bought by the U.S. 

Quickly following the Spanish-American was, along with several other territories, Puerto Ricans are citizens of the U.S., but against their own will. In 1917, then president Woodrow Wilson passed the Jones Act, which in part established citizenship for Puerto Ricans. This was done so that Puerto Rican men would be forced into the draft.

Puerto Rico is more impoverished than any state on the U.S. mainland, including Mississippi, which is the poorest state to date.

Puerto Ricans only leave the island in mass numbers when the state of the island is worse than the state of the mainland, especially financially. If the island and mainland are facing similar economic circumstances, the number of individuals leaving the island drops dramatically.

Puerto Rico is considered a territory of the U.S. This means that the federal government can reap the benefits of the island, but the island cannot reap the benefits of being part of the country. For example: Puerto Ricans can pay taxes to the U.S. and do, since all imported good are brought only by U.S. cargo ships which heavily tax the island, but have no voice in the country’s political votes. 

Puerto Rico has certainly seen some rough days, and there doesn’t seem to be any clearcut solution in site for its people; however, we can all look forward to welcoming our fellow American citizens with open arms and help in any way we can. Not only did we as a country help create this mess, but we’ve ignored the fact that we have. Now the U.S is forced to reap the corruption that is its own.

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