July 25, 2002
By Ana Maria Ramirez
"We are wearing a life jacket ,and we need
to unfasten it and throw it to the side if we are going to make
the changes we need, " said Juan Rodríguez, president
of the New York Committee of the Party for Puerto Rican Independence,
As the constitution turns 50, "boricuas,"
whether they live on the island or in New York, continue to be divided
about the future of Puerto Ricos status.
In the last few decades, many have debated whether
Puerto Rico should become independent from the United States, maintain
its current situation, or convert into a state.
Rodríguez added that the islands
status needs to be defined. "A consensus of Puerto Rican unity
is growing, with the creation of a three party commission."
According to Rodríguez, independence
is the best way for Puerto Rico to develop its economy. "We
cannot go to France to sign a commercial treaty without the backing
of the United States, but we can still attract investments. We arent
against the United States itself, but are against this colonial
But the future of the island Borinquen isnt
only debated in political circles. Puerto Ricans who follow their
islands customs go to the restaurant Taza de Oro, on 15th
Street in Manhattan. There they get together each day to enjoy a
"mofongo," rice and beans, or coconut pudding, and debate
the islands status.
"During the past 50 years Puerto Rico has
developed greatly, but we cannot afford to lose our identity. It
is possible to maintain good relations with the U.S. while being
independent," said José Fuentes.
Others, like Carmen Rodríguez, who was
born in Corozal, said that Puerto Rico should continue as a commonwealth.
"We have so many benefits and so much help. I have lived in
New York for 48 years and I think that our relationship with the
United States is just fine." The smell of coffee filled the
Some who back statehood for Puerto Rico, like
Carmen Santiago, indicated that the relationship between the U.S.
and the island needs to change. "I am against the Navy in Vieques,
they are sacrificing peoples lives and hurting the environment."
Luis Rivera left his native land, Arecibo, 50
years ago to come to New York, but with pride he said that he maintains
Puerto Rican customs. "We have economic and political advantages
as a commonwealth. Right now, everything is just fine."
But not all Puerto Ricans pass on their customs
and language to their children. Luz Meléndez indicated that
she raised two daughters as a single mom, and "they picked
up on the little English I knew. They dont speak Spanish,
because now I have been in New York for 53 years. This country is
great for everyone, and I want things to stay as they are."
Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión
said that even on a day of celebrations, we cannot forget the challenges
facing Puerto Rico. "The military operations continue, endangering
the health and security of Vieques, while the federal authorities
have not made any steps towards fulfilling their promise to leave
and return the territory in May 2003."
Carrión added that the United States
has still not yet approved a project to hold a plebiscite allowing
the islands residents to choose Puerto Ricos permanent
Senator Olga Méndez agrees with Carrión
that Puerto Ricos status needs to be resolved. "Puerto
Ricans on the island can elect a governor, senators, congress people,
and a representative in Washington, who may have a voice but has
no actual vote. We get more money than other states, but we cannot
buy products that arent from the United States. This tiny
island is the fifth world market for the U.S."
According to Méndez, while the status
remains undefined, politics will continue to be schizophrenic. "Puerto
Ricans have fought in all of the United States wars, and have
given their lives for this country, and the residents on the island
cannot vote in presidential elections. Congress sometimes passes
laws that impact Puerto Rico negatively, and they just have to swallow
Translated from Spanish by Erica Pearson
Back to The Citizen page!