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Puerto Rico and the U.S.: a Relationship Misunderstood at Haverford and Beyond

This piece was co-written by Amanda Acosta

Though the percentage of people from Puerto Rico has steadily increased in Haverford’s student body the past several years, the status and history of Puerto Rico, particularly in relation to the United States, remains a mystery for many students.

“[Students] know we’re a colony: they know our status is not a state, but they don’t know what comes with that at all,” said Claudia Rivera ‘18, a Puerto Rico native.

“Regardless of the debt crisis, there’s not much awareness of Puerto Rico and the state that we’re in,” added Natalia Amaral ‘18, who is also from Puerto Rico. “The political implications of what the U.S. has done over the years is not really talked about [at Haverford].”

Political implications stem from the mid-20th century, when the Puerto Rico Federal Relations Act of 1950 was signed. This act gives the U.S. Congress the last word on any changes made to Puerto Rico’s political status.

Puerto Rico also has no political representation, meaning individuals who move from Puerto Rico to the U.S. cannot vote for the next U.S. president if they want to continue to be able to vote in Puerto Rico.

Amidst deeply rooted realities, however, many Puerto Rican students admit the U.S.-Puerto Rico relationship is confusing.

“The relationship is very complicated and you can’t really explain it without going into a ten hour debate with people, and obviously people are going to have conflicting ideas,” said Connor Cassidy ‘17, also from Puerto Rico.

Gabriela Lomba Guzman ‘18 added that the manner in which the relationship is talked about in the media is strange.

“The perspective of the Puerto Rican is often left out or not properly analyzed,” she said.  

At Haverford, Puerto Rican students are also asked to participate in the International Student Orientation (ISO). This presents them with the complex nature of technically being U.S. citizens, but not completely being viewed as such.

When Rivera got the invitation to participate in ISO, she was really upset.

“The fact that [Haverford] consider[s] us international is weird,” she said. “We’re American citizens: there’s no such thing as Puerto Rican citizenship. I think it’s a little ignorant on the part of Haverford to ever consider us international at all.”

However, some Puerto Rican students find kinship with others whose backgrounds are perhaps different from the typical U.S. student.

“The experience [of ISO] made me more aware that I might have more similarities with students who weren’t of the normal stock Haverford student,” said Iván Sanchez, a Puerto Rico native who graduated from Haverford in 2015. “I liked being around people with shared experiences, such as not being able to go home as quickly as a lot of students living in the U.S.”

Still, this camaraderie does not completely override the complexities of identity that many Puerto Rican students feel at Haverford.

“People don’t understand what it is to be Puerto Rican and how we relate to Hispanics, and how we relate to Latin Americans, and how we have an identity crisis,” said Carmen Nieto ‘19. “We don’t know if we’re Americans. It would be good to have a couple of group discussions or panels to inform people [about our position].”

Many past human rights violations that have occurred in the commonwealth are also not often discussed. For example, a survey conducted in the late 1970’s claimed that about one-third of all Puerto Rican mothers were sterilized in a U.S. effort to control Puerto Rico’s population growth. Instead of providing alternative methods of contraception, the program implemented in Puerto Rico encouraged permanent sterilization.

Indeed, it is through dialogue and history that many Puerto Rican students at Haverford hope for solutions. 
“I think that the [U.S.-Puerto Rico] relationship should definitely be talked about more,” said Lomba Guzman. “I think also just explaining the history between the U.S. and Puerto Rico in a more blatant way would be beneficial as well.”