Some voices are saying that it was no accident that the thousands of human beings crammed into a filthy, flooded, and perilous Louisiana Superdome were the poor black citizens of New Orleans. Poor and black citizens of New Orleans were left to bake and perhaps die on their own roof.
Still, Puerto Ricans are in denial. To quote my mother in Ponce, PR (Republican and pro Statehood for Puerto Rico): "There 'you' go again. You're getting emotional. This is not the time. They have bureaucracies to tend to, people to save, lives to reconstruct, and cities to rebuild. Stop trying to blame the President."
She refused to acknowledge New Orleans's Mayor Ray Nagin cries of desperation and cussing to get help for his people. She condemned Hip hop artist Kanye West when he went off script during a live NBC-TV concert for Katrina relief and said that President Bush did not care for blacks. She joined other Puerto Ricans and Republicans' voices and agreed that West was politicizing the issue and should stick to singing.
That may be why some news labeled African Americans taking food and water from groceries stores as "refugees", "rioters", and "looters". Is that what Puerto Ricans were thinking: What's wrong with these people? Why didn't these people just leave?
That's why America's first Mother pronounced after meeting with the evacuees at the Houston Astrodome, that things were just peachy there. "What I'm hearing, which is sort of scary, is they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed by the hospitality," Barbara Bush was quoted by National Public Radio (NPR)'s Marketplace. "And so many of the people in the arena here, you know were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them."
Puerto Ricans are in denial. What would be a real tragedy is if we miss this rare watershed moment to honestly and fervently address the race-and-class divide as we search for a permanent solution for the status issue in our island. The Pro Statehood movement has dismissed them as irrelevant-emotional-political. As a Puerto Rican who has lived 25 years in the US, I think it would be a big mistake to ignore this very important issue.
I wish I had a penny for every time I've been asked where is my green card-or what kind of currency Puerto Ricans use-I would be a millionaire today. As a physician, I have had patients request another of my partners because I "Spik" funny and can't "splain" things. And some of my friends with darker skin fare worse-they are rejected by the African American culture, at the same time that they are rejected by the "whites."
America's race and class divide is real and deep and it is not going anywhere. America has never confronted the race/poverty conundrum. Have Puerto Ricans ever asked why is it that even though we pay the same payroll taxes (FICA) as the rest of the USA, our comparative social security benefits are lower? The same goes for Medicare and Medicaid. In America, the poor and black are to be neither seen nor heard.
If Puerto Rico joined the USA as the 51st state, we would be the poorest and darkest state. Before we debate status for our island again, lets reflect on how America treats its poor and non-whites.