Things That Matter

Some Puerto Ricans Plan On Leaving The Island To Give Their Family A Better Life, While Others Tell Us They Feel Guilty Leaving

Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map

Nelson Feliciano fills 16 empty soda bottles and milk jugs with brownish-yellow-colored water from the Ojo de Agua, a swollen stream in Aguadilla, a municipality located on the northwestern tip of Puerto Rico. “We’ll use this to bathe,” he tells mitú in Spanish, alluding to his five daughters, ages 5, 12, 13, 15 and 18. They’re the reason Feliciano makes the mountainous trek under the searing sun once a day, and why he is considering leaving his island for the U.S. mainland.

From 2006 to 2015, more than 700,000 people fled debt-ridden Puerto Rico, a colony of the United States, to cities like Orlando, New York, Philadelphia and Miami. Many more are expected to leave in the wake of catastrophic storms. One month after Hurricane Maria’s 155 MPH winds shook the entire archipelago, 80 percent of Puerto Ricans still lack electricity and more than a third of the people don’t have potable water. All over the once lush land lies rubble of homes and businesses, battered, just like the fallen and leafless trees that sit beside them. Countless homes, restaurants, gas stations, shops and jobs were also lost.

According to experts, the massive humanitarian, climate and debt crises will prompt hundreds of thousands more to leave — many are expected to never return. In the three weeks that planes have been taking off from San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital, already 10,000 residents have left. Puerto Ricans, who have an imposed second-class kind of citizenship, where they are able to serve in the U.S. military but not allowed to vote for the president or elect voting senators or representatives in the U.S. Congress, can legally migrate to any of the U.S. states. But the decision to do so remains complicated and difficult for most on the island.

“If I were alone, I’d stay. But I have young children, who don’t understand the situation, and us, who know that the hospitals aren’t functioning, if I have the opportunity to leave, I will,” Feliciano says.

We spoke with several Puerto Ricans on the island about their future. Here’s what they had to say.

Shakira, Río Piedras

(Photo Credit: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi / PR on The Map)

“I’m staying. I think a lot of people are leaving the island because they can’t take the situation or to be with family. But I’m staying because I want to be part of bettering my island. If we all leave, there are few left to make change. I want to be a part of the new beginning here.”

Alba DeJesus, Hato Rey

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I don’t want to sound like a privileged class that says ‘Puerto Rico Se Levanta,’ because there are classes that can say that and see that and others that can’t, right, so I don’t want to perpetuate that. It’s intense what happened, and it’s intense what other people are living. They’re at zero. But I don’t want to leave, and I don’t want my family to leave. It’s a hard job, and it’s a job that will require us to really see what solidarity looks like.”

Nelson Rodriguez, Aguadilla

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’m going to try to fix my home. It’s not going to be fixed in one day, but if I work on it a little bit every day, then eventually it will be. Things aren’t going to be good, and it’s going to take a long time to rebuild. It will take years and years. If I can’t rebuild it, then I’ll go to the U.S. I have family in Boston and the Bronx.”

Lydia Osorio, Loíza

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“Honestly, my perspective is clear on leaving Puerto Rico. And it’s not just because of what’s happening now with Maria. No. It’s because what we are going through with the government. It’s forcing us to immigrate even if we don’t want to. You look for a job, and there isn’t one, or you have to wait or it’s complicated. There’s a lot of factors that go into play for a Puerto Rican to immigrate. If I go, I’d go to Orlando, Florida. My dad and my oldest daughter, who is 16, are there. And that’s where I’m at.”

Rubén, Vega Baja

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’ll stay here till I die.”

Sophia Rivera, Guaynabo

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’m in college, and I’m going to stay studying here. I see myself at least helping as much as I can. If I’m outside, I will help as much as I can. This island, and everything in it, has helped me be the person that I am, and if I would be in another place, I wouldn’t be this good person. I know I’m a good person because I’m giving everything that I have to my community, and that’s the biggest opportunity that I could get here. It’s giving what I can to the people who need it.”

Joel Ortiz, Carolina (by way of the Dominican Republic)

(Photo Credit: Kat Lazo / PR on The Map)

“I would prefer to stay here and live here, but the situation is very bad. Even if you want to leave, it’s very hard to find tickets.”

Joselin, Old San Juan

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“It’s a compromise we have to make to stay, to stay to uplift, to construct. We don’t just want to reconstruct the country. The country that is behind us didn’t work. We need a new one.”

Vanessa Foy, Río Piedras

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I won’t leave my country. I was born here, I grew up here and here I’ll wait to die.”

Genisis Quiñones, Loíza

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I can understand why people are leaving. There’s no money. …We’ve been thinking about leaving even before Irma or Maria happened, but I think my mom wants to stay because she doesn’t want to leave her father. … We don’t want to leave just because this happened and there aren’t any jobs. No, just because things are bad and then when things get better we want to come, ‘cause that’s gonna look bad, you know? We’re Puerto Rican, and we’re supposed to stay with the people that we love, even though things get bad. I think we are going to stay.”

Luis, Aguadilla

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’m not leaving. I was born here, I lived my whole life here and I will die here. Where would I even go? To the cemetery. That’s where I’ll go.”

Diana Cassanova, Aguadilla

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“A lot of people are leaving, and that’s a big mistake. If it’s hard to survive here that it’s cheaper, most of these people are going to end up in a shelter because the rents out there [in the U.S.] are ridiculous. I cannot survive no more in New York. I did it for 30 years. Once I retired, I cannot survive on my social security. So I came back here. And I won’t leave. I don’t want to be a burden to my kids. I’m here.”

Mariana, Río Piedras

(Photo Credit: Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi / PR on The Map)

“I am staying for now, but I lost my job, and so I need to leave to make money to return with more competitiveness and more money. We can’t judge the people who are leaving because of necessity because it’s a reality. We are going through a humanitarian crisis and an economic crisis, that already existed but now intensified with what just happened. If I have the opportunity to leave and work for a month, I’d do it. But ultimately it is necessary for us to stay, and, if we leave, for us to return so that we can continue to work for our community.”

Gabriel Díaz Rivera, Río Piedras

(Photo Credit: Raquel Reichard / PR on The Map)

“I’m planning on staying. That’s why we are doing what we are doing, to construct a Puerto Rico for ourselves. The rich and the millionaires will stay on the island. … And it’s important for us to stay to enjoy our terrain and to have a greater influence in the fixing of this country and getting out of this crisis, to create a country that’s for the people and not for the same small few that has benefited.”

Reporting for this article was made possible through PR on The Map, a Latinx independent media team put together by grassroots organizer and former Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Rosa Clemente to produce unfiltered, unapologetic and intergenerational coverage on Puerto Rico. Donate to PR on The Map here.

READ: Puerto Rico Is Completely Flooded And Could Go Months Without Electricity. Here’s How People In The U.S. Are Uniting Beautifully To Help

Let us know how you are helping out the people devastated by natural disasters in the Caribbean and Mexico in the comments.

A Homeowners Association Tried To Keep A Boricua Who Fought For Our Country From Flying Her PR Flag

Culture

A Homeowners Association Tried To Keep A Boricua Who Fought For Our Country From Flying Her PR Flag

screenshot taken from Orlando Sentinel

When hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans came together to demand former Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to resign following leaked chats that revealed political corruption and a series of sexist and homophobic messages, Frances Santiago wanted to stand in solidarity with her people. Living in Kissimmee, Florida, she wasn’t able to protest with her country folk on the archipelago but she demonstrated symbolically by placing her red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag outside of her home. 

Now, the Central Florida Boricua is facing a battle against her own community leaders. Three weeks after putting up the flag, the homeowner received a letter from the Rolling Hills Estates Homeowners Association requesting her to take it down. 

Santiago, an Army veteran who served 14 years as a medic, including two tours in Iraq, says she refuses to remove the flag.

“I fought for this, to be able to do this. So, I don’t see a problem with flying my flag here,” the woman told Orlando-area news station WFTV.

According to HOA bylaws, all flags are outlawed. However, the board made an exception for US flags, sports flags and flags used to honor first responders and fallen officers. Considering these edicts, Santiago is unsure why the group is asking her to remove the flag, as Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.

“Puerto Rico is part of America. What’s the big issue with us having our flag there,” she said.

HOA president Norma McNerney told  WFTV that she’s not asking the Santiago family to remove the flag because it’s from Puerto Rico; however, she did not comment on the island being the colonial property of the US and, thus, meeting the association’s criterion. 

“We treat all owners the same. If you travel through our community, you will see the only flags are those regulated by the state,” McNerney said.

Puerto Ricans have historically been banned from displaying their flag. 

While many tease that Boricuas exhibit their bandera on anything and everything, from their cars and house goods to their clothes and accessories, owning a Puerto Rican flag wasn’t legal until 1957. Nine years prior, on June 10, 1948, la Ley de La Mordaza, better known as the gag law, made it a crime to own or display a Puerto Rican flag, sing a patriotic song or speak or write of independence. The legislation, signed into law by Jesús T. Piñero, the United States-appointed governor, aimed at suppressing the growing movement to liberate Puerto Rico from its colonial ties to the United States. Anyone accused and found guilty of disobeying the law could be sentenced to ten years in prison, be fined $10,000 or both.

Additionally, in Kissimmee, which locals nicknamed “Little Puerto Rico” because of its vast Puerto Rican population, there has been pushback from community members who are not pleased with the demographic changes. City-Data forums warn people interested in moving to Central Florida to beware of Puerto Ricans, who commenters refer to as “roaches,” “criminals,” and the N-word, while news of attacks against Boricuas has become more common. Florida is home to more Puerto Ricans in the contiguous US than any other state. Most of the population resides in the Orlando-Kissimmee area. The region has been the top destination for Puerto Ricans escaping the financial crisis since 2008 and displacement following Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. But it is also the prime journey stop for diasporic Puerto Ricans from New York, Chicago, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Massachusetts. The area is among the largest and fastest-growing Puerto Rican communities in the country.

As such, Central Florida Boricuas have rallied around Santiago. An online petition created by the Florida Puerto Rican group Alianza for Progress is asking the HOA to cease their discriminatory practices against Santiago and is already close to meeting its goal of 1,600 signatures. At the time of writing, it is short just 51 names.

Santiago and her husband Efrain have insisted that they have no intention of bringing the flag down.

“[The flag] will stay there and we’ll deal with it; we’ll exhaust every avenue possible,” Efrain said. “We have our house, you see, up to standards. We’re not doing anything wrong. We’re not doing anything to our neighbors by flying our flag.”

While the Santiagos haven’t presently been issued any fines for the violation, they said they do have a lawyer and are prepared to take this fight to protect their freedom further. “I’m proud of my roots, who I am, [where] I come from. We’re not offending anyone. None of the neighbors were offended with us putting the flag there,” Efrain said.

Read: The Governor Of Puerto Rico Was Caught In A Chat Using Grotesque Homophobic And Sexist Language And The Entire Island Is Calling Him To Resign In Massive Protests

The Drama Continues: Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court Says New Governor’s Oath Was Unconstitutional

Things That Matter

The Drama Continues: Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court Says New Governor’s Oath Was Unconstitutional

@rafernandezlaw / Twitter

It’s been five days since former Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló resigned following massive protests against scandalous and incriminating chats, and the archipelago still does not have a lawfully recognized successor in La Fortaleza, the governor’s mansion.

Upon stepping down on Friday, August 2, the embattled politico nominated Pedro Pierluisi.

Peirluisi was to fill the secretary of state vacancy left by Luis G. Rivera Marín, who resigned last month for his own part in the leaked messages. As secretary of state, Pierluisi would have been next in line to become governor. However, Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court unanimously ruled on Wednesday that part of the law used by Rosselló to name Pierluisi his successor is unconstitutional.

But the Supreme Court ruled against that part of the law Rosselló used to appoint Pierluisi was unconstitutional.

“The governor’s oath of office was unconstitutional,” Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court said, as reported by NBC News. “Therefore, Hon. Pedro R. Pierluisi Urrutia can’t continue his work as Governor after this Opinion and Sentence becomes effective.”

The decision, which takes effect at 5 p.m. EST, follows a lawsuit filed by Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz on Monday. In the litigation, Rivera Schatz asked the courts to immediately remove Pierluisi from the position because his governorship was unlawful according to Puerto Rico’s constitution. 

While the social codes do say that the island’s secretary of state should be the new governor if the position is vacant, it requires the person nominated to the post to be confirmed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, Pierluisi had only been confirmed as secretary of state by the House when he took his oath as governor on Friday.

“It’s unconstitutional to allow a Secretary of State to become Governor without having been confirmed by both legislative chambers,” the Supreme Court said in a press release.

The Senate postponed its vote for this week, days after Rosselló’s resignation became official, meaning that Pierluisi’s governorship was unofficial and that the Caribbean island hasn’t yet filled the top seat. 

This week, instead of voting on the matter, Rivera Schatz went to the courts to argue that Pierluisi did not “occupy the position of secretary of state in property” because he wasn’t confirmed by both Houses.

In response, Pierluisi contended this wasn’t the only way that the secretary of state could be ratified, citing the law of succession of 2005, which included a recommendation by Puerto Rico’s Department of Justice to waive a secretary of state’s confirmation requirement in case of an emergency.

He is expected to be making a comment later today.

Puerto Ricans are celebrating the ruling.

Since Rosselló nominated Pierluisi as secretary of state, many have taken to the streets for “¡Pierluisi, renuncia!” demonstrations. Opponents have several issues with Pierluisi, a former resident commissioner and an attorney, but predominantly condemn his ties to the unelected fiscal control board, known on the archipelago as “la junta.” 

In the historic protests that removed Rosselló, demonstrators called for both his resignation and the disbanding of the largely-loathed Obama-appointed board that has slashed needed public services on the island. “Ricky renuncia, y llévate a la junta,” went one of the most popular chants of the rallies. Pierluisi has a long history with the board, representing Puerto Rico in Congress when the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, or PROMESA, was passed, which created la junta; his brother-in-law is the chair of the board; and Pierluisi has been working for the law firm that does consulting for the board — a post he resigned from to take on the role as governor.

But the drama isn’t over yet since the woman next in-line still doesn’t want the island’s top job and Puerto Ricans don’t want her.

According to the Puerto Rican constitution, next in line to fill the governorship seat is Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez, who has said repeatedly that she is not interested in the job. Puerto Rican media are reporting that Vazquez, who has also faced public disapproval for her defense of the leaked chats and her own problematic history as an attorney, will nominate Jenniffer Gonzalez, the U.S. territory’s representative in Congress, as secretary of state, who would then takeover as governor if Vazquez steps down.

When questioned about this scenario, González told local newspaper El Nuevo Día, “that is decided by the bodies and the governor. I will support whomever they choose. That has been my position since day one.”

Even more, Puerto Rico Sen. Zoe Laboy told Central Florida cable news outlet Spectrum News 13 that should Gonzalez be nominated as secretary of state by Vazquez, then she hopes both the House and Senate would have the chance to ratify the nomination.

This would pose an even greater challenge for Puerto Ricans fighting for a just and free future for their island, as Gonzalez is not only a member of the same pro-statehood party of the Rosselló administration but is also a Trump-supporting Republican.

Vázquez is expected to be sworn in as Puerto Rico’s new governor on Wednesday at 5 p.m. EST.

Read: The Governor Of Puerto Rico Was Caught In A Chat Using Grotesque Homophobic And Sexist Language And The Entire Island Is Calling Him To Resign In Massive Protests

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