Editor’s Note: Miguel Guadalupe has worked for New York’s financial services and tech research industry. He is a director of La Unidad Latina Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on access to education. He is the spouse of Maria Santana, the New York correspondent for CNN en Español. His articles have been published by HLN.com, The Huffington Post, Latino Rebels, and Llero.net. You can follow him @miguad98. The views expressed are his own.
Miguel Guadalupe: The diaspora has a responsibility to use its political power on the mainland to help those on the island
The march will show the nation's capital that it would be a mistake to ignore the second-largest Latino group that can vote, he writes
Recovery efforts in Puerto Rico have been an embarrassment for the United States federal government and have left residents of the island wondering if their lives have value to this nation.
More importantly, they have exposed how the absence of voting power on the island adds to the disconnect between it and the mainland. As a member of the Puerto Rican diaspora, and as a US citizen, I and others have a responsibility to do whatever we can to give the island a voice where it has none.
On Sunday, at the Unity March For Puerto Rico, I will be joining thousands of people in our nation’s capital. We will march in solidarity for Puerto Rico, an island that is still struggling to regain basic services like electricity and water months after Hurricane Maria.
Many of us in the diaspora – those who share Puerto Rican roots but do not live on the island – have already raised money for humanitarian projects in Puerto Rico, sent goods, and have called our representatives to send more help. We’ve gone to neglected localities to help where the government hasn’t. It has become clear to many that some people in power either can’t or won’t effect changes that would allow the island to truly rebuild and grow from the current tragedy.
The organizers of the Unity March For Puerto Rico agree, and want people to come to Washington on Sunday to ask our representatives to support the following:
1. Exempting Puerto Rico from the Jones Act – a 1920 law that requires that all goods shipped to or from the island between US ports be handled by American ships. This would allow the island to bring in trade revenue and lower the cost of goods to the island.
2. The cancellation of Puerto Rico’s debt – which has been devastating the island, as it has led to cuts to services and infrastructure budgets.
3. Increasing efforts by the US government to rebuild the island.
The national chair and organizer of the march, Evelyn Mejil, writes: “The mission of Unity March for Puerto Rico is to stand in solidarity – one people – one voice – against unjust laws that have been systematically oppressive and crippling to the people of Puerto Rico and the socio-economic growth and sustainability of the island.”
As a commonwealth, the island itself is a weak advocate – it has no voting representation in Congress, cannot vote in presidential elections and has no direct way to introduce policy or laws that would help its own cause.
Despite being citizens, despite fighting and dying for the United States on the battlefield – the residents of the island have no voice in our nation’s capital. This relationship has contributed to the island’s current plight, because despite ranking higher than 21 US states in population and 14 states in GDP, Puerto Rico has the highest unemployment rate and lowest per capita income in the country.
It is no wonder the island was ill-prepared to handle a Category 5 hurricane, or that so many were heavily impacted by it.
But a short flight to the mainland reveals a diaspora with voting privileges and a voice. That is why our advocacy and activism is critical to the recovery of the island, especially as its government and the federal government continue to make major mistakes, and sometimes what seems like deliberate decisions, at the expense of Puerto Rican residents during this time.
The undercounting of dead Puerto Ricans, the recent Whitefish Energy contract scandal or the recent critique of the alleged candy and junk food-filled rations being distributed by FEMA are just some examples of what the diaspora need to keep in mind as it casts ballots.
Sunday’s march will show America that the problems in Puerto Rico are not happening on some remote and disconnected land far away from “everyday Americans.” America’s history is rich with people fighting – through marches, boycotts, and voting – against injustices.
Puerto Ricans are everyday Americans. And they will follow in the footsteps of Americans who sought justice before them. The diaspora has family and friends who are suffering and property and businesses that contribute to this nation’s economy. And at over 5 million, the second-largest Latino group residing (and voting) on the mainland shouldn’t be ignored by the government – that would be foolish.