Commonwealth Failed: It’s Time for Puerto Ricans to Make the Ultimate Political Decision in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Unity March for Puerto Rico in Washington, DC. Sunday, November 19, 2017. (photo by Phil Velez.)

Less than two weeks before this year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade celebration, a new Harvard University study estimates 4,645 Puerto Ricans died from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. As Boricuas prepare to celebrate our culture and mourn the lives lost, it may also be time to seriously reevaluate Puerto Rico’s political status.

As a Puerto Rican born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx, also known as a Nuyorican, I’ve known that for 120 years my people have continuously debated between being an independent sovereign nation, a commonwealth/territory of the United States, or the 51st State of the United States of America. Commonwealth has always won out. Puerto Rico has operated as a commonwealth since 1898 after the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. It’s classified as an “unincorporated territory,” meaning the island is controlled by the U.S.

The more than 4,600 Puerto Rican deaths from Hurricane Maria clearly illustrates to me that commonwealth failed Puerto Rico. The United States government pretty much abandoned Puerto Rico at its most dire time. If Puerto Rico had been a State when Hurricane Maria hit, there most likely would have been more U.S. resources allocated for the archipelago’s recovery, thus leading to fewer hurricane-related fatalities.

I dare to speculate that if the citizens of Puerto Rico had decided long ago to be an independent nation, they may have been greater prepared to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The proposed Republic of Puerto Rico would have been able to reach out to the international community for assistance as opposed to relying only on the U.S. for help.

The fight for independence has a long history in Puerto Rico, becoming fiercely intense. In 1950 Puerto Rican nationalists tried to assassinate U.S. President Harry Truman and in 1954 nationalists shot-up the U.S. Capitol.

The struggle for independence has never been popular with the majority of Puerto Ricans with historically only about five percent of the citizenry voting in favor. In last year’s plebiscite, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for Statehood, however, only 23 percent of the population voted. Independence and Commonwealth supporters boycotted the status referendum suggesting the vote was rigged in favor of Statehood.

As a Puerto Rican born in the States, I have no say in the matter. At first, I thought the status-quo political stance of Puerto Rico was fine by me. It seemed like the best of both worlds. Later I thought my people should make a decision already. If I had a vote, I would vote to cross off Commonwealth and let the people of Puerto Rico finally achieve self-determination. Do you want La Isla del Encanto to be a U.S. State or an independent country?

Becoming a State makes the most sense since it already acts as a State and the position is strongly supported politically. Puerto Rico would be like the Hawaii of the East Coast. We Puerto Ricans can finally live happily ever as officially part of the U.S. with all the benefits that come along with that, like having full representation in Congress and the ability to vote for the U.S. President.  Most recently, I had personally wholeheartedly supported this idea.

Then I  conducted research on the history of the independence of Puerto Rico and came across Eugenio Maria de Hostos, a Puerto Rican educator, author, and revolutionary. Hostos furiously fought for the independence of Puerto Rico but the U.S. was interested in keeping the potential Caribbean nation a colony. Hostos was upset with this power and the fact that his people did not collectively fight for independence, that he left Puerto Rico and lived his last years in the Dominican Republic where he is buried. Hostos’ final wish was to have his remains stay permanently in the Dominican Republic until the day Puerto Rico is completely independent.

If the government of Puerto Rico negotiates independence with the U.S., it could stipulate that for 10 years the U.S. must financially and structurally help Puerto Rico get on its feet to operate like its own country. It’s a fantastic possibility, but I try to be a true optimist. Maybe the spirits of Puerto Rican freedom fighters are still calling the Boriken subconsciousness.

In any event, I think it’s time to take the Commonwealth option off the table. Puerto Ricans must accept the fact that sitting on the political fence has not worked for our people. It will take some time for Puerto Rico to get on its feet and it may take years to feel some sense of normalcy. During this time of healing, Puerto Ricans need to do some real soul searching to finally decide its political fate. We owe it to the 4,645 Puerto Ricans who lost their lives due to Hurricane Maria. More importantly, we owe it to ourselves.


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My Puerto Rican DNA Results

(My DNA results as per Ancestry.com.)

As a Puerto Rican, I have known for decades that my ethnic makeup consisted of a mix of Spanish, Taino, and African ancestry. However, I did not know the actual makeup of my Puerto Rican blood until now. In December I sent away for my DNA results from Ancestry.com. The company noted results would be ready in six to eight weeks but mine was completed in four weeks. I, of course, am still Puerto Rican, but now that means more to me than just being Spanish, Taino, and African.

I primarily wanted to find out the exact percentage of my Native American and African heritage and more specifically I wanted to know where in Africa my ancestors came from. While I waited for my results, I conducted research online and was surprised to find out that most Puerto Ricans who tested their DNA had traces of Italian and Greek ancestry. I also saw many Puerto Ricans had some heritage from Great Britain. Prior to this research and my DNA results, I never really thought of being anything other than Puerto Rican.

Here is a summary of my Puerto Rican DNA results:

  • 26% Iberian Peninsula (Spanish)
  • 20% Native American (Taino)
  • 18% African (16% Nigeria, 1% Africa North, 1% Ivory Coast/Ghana)
  • 13% Great Britain
  • 10% Italy/Greece
  • 8% European Jewish
  • 2% Ireland/Scotland/Wales
  • 2% Finland/Northwest Russia
  • <1% Middle Eastern

I was informed that my great-grandmother on my mother’s side was from Spain, so I thought I would be more than 26% Spanish but happy to finally know the exact percentage. I am very excited to learn that I am 20% Native American and 18% African, which includes 16% Nigerian, 1% North African (Morocco, Western Sahara, Algeria, Libya) and 1% from the Ivory Coast/Ghana.

What I found most amazing is that I am 8% European Jewish (Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Israel) and 2% from Finland/Northwest Russia. I also now gladly embrace being 13% from Great Britain (England, Scotland, Wales), 10% from Italy/Greece (Europe South), 2% from Ireland, and less than one percent from the Middle East.

I encourage everyone, especially Puerto Ricans, to have their DNA tested. It helps answer lifelong questions about your ancestry and provides you with a greater world perspective.

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“We’re suffering” – My Mom’s Scream For Help in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico

My mom and I in Boqueron, Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, 2017.

This morning I finally spoke with my mom, Lydia, in the Boqueron section of Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. The last time I heard my mom’s voice was before Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico. Almost two weeks after the hurricane, food and water has not yet reached Cabo Rojo and most likely other towns in the south west part of the island.

My mom says the supermarkets near her are empty, water pressure is almost non-existent, there is still no electricity, it’s hot, she’s getting headaches, and she and her husband Hector have about three more days of can food left.

“We’re suffering,” my mom told me. “I want to leave Puerto Rico now.”

My mom’s flight to New York is scheduled for October 12. My family will send some packages to my mom and Hector, but I hope they get the items. In such a desparate state, the odds of the packages getting to them may be 50/50, but we have to try.

Fortunately, Hector’s cell phone started to get reception today, but the phone can’t be recharged. Things are getting dire for my mom and Hector in Cabo Rojo, PR. The most frustrating thing for me is the sense of feeling helpless. I need to find a way to help my mom.

The world needs to know there are people in Puerto Rico reaching the end of their rope. These people, my people, American citizens, need our help. Food and water needs to reach remote areas of Puerto Rico now.

Though I cannot do much physically to help my mom, I can respond to my mom’s scream for help by magnifying it as loudly as possible.

(UPDATE: On Thursday, Oct. 5, I received word that my mom and Hector are OK with food and things are getting a bit better overall. There are still others struggling and I hope things get better all around very soon.)

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NYC Mayor de Blasio’s Puerto Rican Heritage Event at Gracie Mansion

I was invited to the Puerto Rican Heritage Event celebration hosted by the New York City Mayor’s Office. Below are videos and pictures of the event, held at Gracie Mansion in Manhattan. Mayor Bill de Blasio gave a passionate speech about the plight of Puerto Rico. Honorees included Olympic Gold Medalist Laurie Hernandez and actress Lauren Velez.

Mayor de Blasio speaking about the problem in Puerto Rico. He was quite passionate, moving, and made some very important points.

City Council Speaker and the Mayor present Olympic Medalist Laurie Hernandez with a Proclamation.

Actress Lauren Velez accepts her Proclamation from Mayor de Blasio.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the Puerto Rican Heritage Event at Gracie Mansion.

 

NYC Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito at the Mayor’s Office Puerto Rican Heritage Event at Gracie Mansion.

 

Actress Lauren Velez is presented with a Proclamation by Mayor Bill de Blasio.

 

Laurie Hernandez accepting a Proclamation from Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Mark-Viverito.

 

Puerto Rican Heritage Event at Gracie Mansion.

 

 

 

 

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If You Hate Hillary or You’re Terrified of Trump, There are Other Options for President. Just Vote on Nov. 8!

From left to right: Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson. (Photo courtesy of IndianExpress.com.)

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump may be the least liked presidential candidates in United States history. Each is so disliked to the point that millions of Americans are considering skipping the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which is scheduled for November 8th. However, deciding not to participate in the political process may have disastrous repercussions for years to come.

Many Americans have given up on the upcoming presidential election, regarding it as one where the voter must choose between the lesser of two evils. It should be noted, there are four candidates running for President of the United States. Prominent politicians and the media in general, highlight just the two major political parties: Democrats and Republicans. Notwithstanding, there are two lesser known political parties that have candidates running for president.

If you just cannot vote for Clinton or Trump, instead of sitting out this election, check out Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Jill Stein was the Green Party’s 2012 candidate for president. She is a medical practitioner and an activist. According to Dr. Stein’s website, she holds the current record for most votes ever received by a woman candidate for President of the United States in a general election. The Libertarian Party’s candidate, Gary Johnson, was elected twice Governor of New Mexico as a Republican in an overwhelming Democratic state.

Some politically “savvy” people will say that a vote for a Green Party or Libertarian Party candidate is a lost vote because we live in a major two party system. But with the ineffectiveness of Congress and the crazy electoral process we’ve just witnessed with the Democrats and Republicans, it might be time to seriously consider a competitive third party be added to our election options. Only time will tell which party will rise as a viable third party.

Others worry that if Americans throw their votes behind a third or fourth political party, it will take votes away from Clinton or Trump. I understand this concern. I am an adamant supporter of Hillary Clinton and will be casting my vote for her. If Clinton loses the election because too many people voted for a Green Party or Libertarian Party candidate, I would be quite upset.

At the same time, I believe everyone should participate in the political process and all voices should be heard. Therefore, if you are not happy with the status quo in politics, get involved to change it. I have been a lifelong Democrat and that is not changing anytime soon. But if you are feed up with either the Democrat or Republican Party, know that there are other options. Do your research and cast your vote for President of the United States on Tuesday, November 8th.

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Movie Review: VIVA – The Film

I watched a screening of the new film VIVA, which opens on April 29th, and experienced an array of emotions. The powerful film made me laugh and cry. At times I also found myself angered and other times amused. As a Latino, I connected with the cultural aspects of the movie, which is set in the slums of Havana, Cuba. I also related to the father/son dynamic and the personal search to find oneself.

VIVA stars Héctor Medina as Jesus, a young hairdresser working at a Havana nightclub that showcases drag performers, who dreams of being a performer himself. His father then re-enters his life causing chaos and the two struggle to understand and accept each other.

I enjoyed the development of characters in the film and the even pace of the movie, which beautifully showcases the majestic island nation. The main character’s journey is the focal point of the film and Medina does an outstanding job as Jesus. I highly recommend this film, which is entirely in Spanish with English subtitles.


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Why Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump Have Strong Support (Guest Blog Post)

Photo courtesy of CNN.com

Photo courtesy of CNN.com

I am desperately starved to find, read and hear where the media reports – what is so painfully obvious through the rank and file electorate – that the phenomenon of Donald Trump’s and Bernie Sanders’ success is not only due to their straight-shooting, no BS measured talk, but the majority weight of their success, of being the favored flavor, is the FACT that WE the People are fed up with how Washington does NOT work for US – the people; and Americans are thoroughly displeased/disheartened with how our elected officials do not work for US and seem to be purchasable by any Interest that can best line their pockets.

Simply, whether Independent, Democrat or Republican Americans feel that their elected politicians have gravely failed them by NOT representing them in their best interests, with the implied necessary concern/need of “getting things done”, keeping us moving forward and contributing to make US the manageable Democracy that we are set up to be. Not the current house of discord, distrust, malfeasance and dysfunction that we have become.  By and large, our elected officials have failed US and WE are fed up with their lies, their misleading directions and most of all their refusal to collectively – “Make America Great Again” – work together rather than their current petulant, obstructionist, moribund behavior.

Every day Americans go to work to earn a living and work hard to make as much as they can – most with great sacrifice and familial logistical planning just to make a day’s work possible – and in the course of these working days Americans have long learned not only how, but TO work with their fellow workmates to “get the job done”. Americans, male and female, of working age from all ethnicities, cultures, races, creeds, healthy and disabled with varying political beliefs, WE work hard every day TOGETHER to get our jobs DONE!

We ask: Why can’t the same be executed in Washington?
Why can’t the politicians in the United States respect, preserve and mimic what WE Americans do every day to make this country work? – With the result being a functioning United States of America of which WE are all proud to be a part of?

Why?

The message at this point in this presidential election process IS about Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and ALSO the sounding rockets they are to bells’ pealing with the palpable sense of despair and letdown Americans are feeling.

Please report it for what it is, Fourth Estate, do not let us down.

Sincerely,
Joe Craven
New York City

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