Our Puerto Rican citizens

Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Hurricane Maria walloped the island of Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. The hurricane, flooding, and catastrophic devastation along with the ensuing media coverage reminded us or informed us that Puerto Ricans born on their island are citizens of the United States of America.

In 1898, Puerto Rico was annexed to the U.S. as a result of the Spanish-American War. Puerto Ricans, born on the island, were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917 by the Jones Act and served in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Yet, polls taken after Hurricane Maria indicated only 50 percent of people in North America recognized that Puerto Rico is a territory of the U.S. with citizenship whereas the residents can travel back and forth without passports or visas.

Puerto Ricans on the Island

Puerto Rico is a Caribbean island between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. According to Data USA, the population of Puerto Rico is 99 percent Hispanic, less than one percent White and less than one percent Black.

Puerto Ricans in U.S.

The U.S. Census Bureau uses Hispanic or Latino to refer to “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.” In addition, Hispanics or Latinos can be of any race, any ancestry, and any ethnicity. But, only Puerto Ricans born on their island are recognized as American citizens.

According to the Pew Research Center 2011 statistics, 3.4 million Puerto Ricans were born in the 50 states or District of Columbia and 1.5 million living in the U.S. were born on the island. Puerto Ricans are the second-largest population of Hispanic origin living in the United States and residents are mainly concentrated in New York City, Florida, and New Jersey. The annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, held the second Sunday in June in New York, is considered a cultural symbol of ethnic pride. However, lesser-known Puerto Rican communities exist in Ohio, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

Puerto Ricans in Appalachia

In a 2011 report from the Appalachian Regional Commission, Latinos accounted for 4 percent of the total Appalachian population, or over one million people. A new project in 2014 called “Las Voces De Los Apalaches” asserted a thriving Latino population in Kentucky. Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the Appalachian Region. Six of the 10 states with the fastest-growing Hispanic populations are in the Appalachian South according to the Pew Research Center.

Puerto Ricans in Ohio

The majority of Puerto Ricans in Ohio live in Cuyahoga County and Lorain Counties.The Cleveland metro area in Cuyahoga County accounts for 39 percent while Lorain County accounts for 17 percent.

The OSU Public Media reported around 200 children from the Puerto Rican island arrived in Cleveland and Lorain, Ohio to attend school because of the recent natural disaster.

Scioto County, Ohio

According to 2016 U.S. Census QuickFacts, Scioto County is home to 1.3 Hispanic or Latino. U.S. Bureau of the Census decided “Hispanics or Latinos are those people who classified themselves in one of the specific Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino categories listed on the Census 2010 questionnaire” and these individuals can indicate Mexican, Puerto Rican, or Cuban. People that indicate they are “another Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin” have origins from Spain, Central or South America, or the Dominican Republic.

Why should White residents of counties without Puerto Rican neighbors learn about them? Because all people are created with equal worth and value. Because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. Because parents and caregivers are role models. And because we want our children to appreciate diversity and respect people who are different because humans are more alike than dissimilar.

Learning About Puerto Rico

School librarians and public librarians can suggest books and resources about Puerto Rico. Exploring Puerto Rican history about colonialism will provide a background of information. Exposing books to children, adolescents, and adults in the U.S. about Puerto Rican culture, ethnicity, and diversity can lead to discussions for understanding, and accepting our fellow island citizens.

La Borinqueña is a 2016 comic book by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguezl and was written in response to Puerto Rico’s economic crisis and social justice issues. Marisol, the female superhero, transforms into La Borinqueña and serves as a symbol for the nation.

Clemente! by Willie Perdomo, published in 2016, is a book about a young boy who learns about his namesake, the great baseball player Roberto Clemente. Born in Puerto Rico, Clemente was the first Latin American player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He played for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Checking Our Cultural Biases

Recently, I took a Hidden Bias Test online called an Implicit Association Test. It measures unconscious or automatic biases—believing a stereotype or being prejudice about something when you don’t think you are biased. Results indicated that I hold some unconscious biases. So I’m willing to admit it and work on it. [http://take%20this%20no%20cost%20test%20at%20www.tolerance.org/professional-development/test-yourself-for-hidden-bias]Take this no cost test at www.tolerance.org/professional-development/test-yourself-for-hidden-bias which is on the Teaching Tolerance website.

Do you believe the following statements?

The 3.4 million U.S. citizens that live on the island of Puerto Rico are entitled to the same government emergency responses as citizens in North America.

Puerto Rican citizens are protected by the U.S. Bill of Rights.

The U.S. government needs to do more to help Puerto Rico concerning water, food, medicine, electricity, shelter and other basic necessities.

The U.S. government should recognize Puerto Rico as the 51st state if that’s what the majority of the island residents vote for.

As Yehuda Berg declared, “A true community is not just about being geographically close to someone or part of the same social web network. It’s about feeling connected and responsible for what happens. Humanity is our ultimate community, and everyone plays a crucial role.”


Melissa Martin, Ph.D.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.

Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, self-syndicated columnist, educator, and therapist. She resides in Scioto County, Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.