American, by the Grace of God
by: Javier Ortiz:
We have all been there. We meet someone new at work, at a restaurant, or just out at the park. We want to know all about them, where they grew up, what college they graduated from, are they married, do they have any kids. Where do they work, do they play golf, ski, or scuba dive? Are they liberal, maybe conservative, or a right in the middle? Do they drink scotch, vodka, beer, or just sparkling water? We do this because it's how we get to know each other and build lasting relationships, or just decide the person is interesting but we'll probably never see them again.
When our questions lead to the answer "I'm from Puerto Rico" we immediately think of the tropical breeze, beautiful beaches, and fantastic night life. We also think, and many times says, "Oh, you're Puertorrican", and reflect on four million people that don't pay federal taxes, can't vote for the President of the United States, and don't want to be a State of the Union. And we get this feeling that the people from Puerto Rico are different. Many of us even say so out loud. I remember an honorable Member of Congress addressing a group of people in Puerto Rico saying "... and I'm honored to be here. I support immigrants coming to the US... " Imagine my horror and dismay; these folks opened their homes and wallets and now they are being insulted.
I don't blame this Congressman or anyone for thinking this way. We are a society that gets our information and education from sound bites, the movies, and from lobbyists and spin miesters hired to support a position. In the world of fantasy and spin, facts don't matter. The media and the hired guns have helped perpetuate an awful myth.
Here are some of the facts. Everyone born in Puerto Rico is an American, just as if they had been born in New York, California, Mississippi, Alaska, Hawaii, or any other state. There is no choice in the matter; and there hasn't been any since March 2, 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act. From this day forward, everyone born in Puerto Rico is a natural born citizen of the United States of America. People from Puerto Rico have a long history of service in the U.S. even before 1917; dating back to the Civil War. Yes, our very own Civil War; and World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam, Beirut, Grenada, Libya, Operation Desert Storm, the Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq. There are NASA engineers, NIH researchers, banking executives, board members of public companies, lawyers, doctors, computer programmers, entrepreneurs, nurses, and many other hard working Americans that happened to have been born in Puerto Rico.
Why does this matter? For an American to fully exercise his or her constitutional rights, they can live anywhere but Puerto Rico. Yes, you read that right. Any American that happens to live in Puerto Rico is automatically and immediately disenfranchised from the American dream. Today, there are four million Americans living in Puerto Rico unable to fully participate in our American dream.
It's incredible to me that those four million Americans must live anywhere but there to do everything we do in the rest of the fifty states. If you live in Puerto Rico you can join the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or the Coast Guard. Many have gone to combat, earned a Silver or Bronze Star, or even the Congressional Medal of Honor, yet if they want to vote for the Commander-in-Chief they have to move to Idaho, Nebraska, Iowa, Oklahoma; you name the state.
So the next time you meet someone from Puerto Rico, please think of the warm sun, beautiful beaches, and friendly Americans-fellow citizens; and remember their great contributions and sacrifices to this country of ours, the United States of America.
Ortiz is a business and political strategy consultant and is a former senior executive at a global software company.