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Posts Tagged ‘Puerto Rico’

Are Puerto Rican Veterans Neglected?

Maria Hinojosa talks to Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner and official delegate to the U.S. Congress, about the conditions for Puerto Rican veterans on the island and the recent federal probes into Puerto Rico’s Veterans Affairs health system.

 

Pedro-Pierluisi-cropped

Pedro R. Pierluisi has been Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner in Washington since January 2009.  A member of the national Democratic Party and the local pro-statehood New Progressive Party, he is the sole representative in Congress of the 3.6 million American citizens who reside on the Island. Born in San Juan, Congressman Pierluisi is an attorney with 24 years of legal experience in the public and private sector. He is a graduate of Tulane University and The George Washington University Law School. He began his career in Washington, working for six years as a litigator at an internationally-recognized law firm. From 1993 to 1996, Pierluisi served as Attorney General of Puerto Rico.

 

Calle 13: Accidental Revolutionary

Rene Perez Joglár, lyricist and frontman for Calle 13, didn’t mean to become a revolutionary icon for Latin America’s youth.

“They try to put stamps on you,” Perez tells Latino USA in a one-on-one interview. “It’s more simple than that. It’s just a normal guy, writing about the things he sees around him.”

Calle 13 began life as a potty-mouthed rap group from Puerto Rico. They gained attention for their alternative take on reggaeton, with a style characterized by over-the-top sexual humor and smart punch lines. Over years and albums, their music became more serious and socially engaged, addressing topics like poverty, migration and social justice in Latin America. Musically, they absorbed influences from traditional and folk sounds from the region.

Now, nine years after their debut, Calle 13 has released their most introspective album yet, titled Multi_Viral. Featuring guest spots from leftist icons Eduardo Galeano, Julian Assange and Silvio Rodriguez, the album touches on a lot of “big ideas”: on the resilience of the human spirit in “El Aguante”, on the ephemeral nature of life and death in “La Vida (Respira el Momento)” and on the power of ideas itself in “Así de Grandes Son las Ideas.”

René Perez sits down with Maria Hinojosa for a an intimate interview about his new album.

Below, listen to the songs we played in this segment:

“Adentro”

“El Aguante”

“Así de Grandes Son las Ideas”

 

 

ECUADOR-US-CHEVRON-POLLUTION-CALLE 13

Calle 13 is a Puerto Rican rap/reggaeton band formed by René Pérez Joglar (“Residente”) and Eduardo José Cabra Martínez (“Visitante”).

Photo by Juan Cevallos – AFP/Getty Images.

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images

 

 

 

 

The Other Border: Puerto Rico’s Seas

There’s no fence to divide it. There are no bridges to cross or checkpoints to be checked at. There’s no desert to lose oneself in.

The other border is a 60 mile stretch of ocean between the island of Hispaniola – shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti – and the US commonwealth of Puerto Rico, known as the Mona Passage.

The Mona Passage is the main route for unauthorized immigration to Puerto Rico, mostly from the Dominican Republic. The migrants are brought over by smugglers in small wooden boats called yolas. Each boat can be packed with 100 people or more.

US Customs and Border Protection aid a group of migrants (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).

Undocumented migrants arrive in Puerto Rico (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).

 

 “THE MONA IS TREACHEROUS”

“The Mona is treacherous,” says US Coast Guard Captain Drew Pearson, the man in charge of patrolling the Mona. “It can be nearly calm one minute, and then have 8-10 foot seas the next minute. And that can lead to a boat capsizing or people being ejected into the water.”

For migrants, the chance to dramatically better their lives makes the journey worth the high risk. Puerto Rico is poorer than Mississippi, the poorest state, but it’s still almost five times wealthier than the Dominican Republic.

DIFFICULT DECISIONS

Before immigrating to Puerto Rico 10 years ago, domestic worker Altagracia Pablo had been living in deep poverty in a rural region of the Dominican Republic. “We didn’t even have a house – it collapsed in a storm, and we were sleeping wherever people would let us,” she says.

She made the difficult decision to leave her two daughters and look for a better life in Puerto Rico. She borrowed $1500 to pay the smugglers. They told her to pack a single change of clothes and brought her to Miches, a town on the eastern edge of the island.

The journey took 28 hours. She remembers vomiting over and over again. And there were other problems.

“Water leaked into the gas supply, there were problems with the motor. There were fights between passengers with knives and bottles,” she says. “But in the end, thank god, we made it safely.”

US Customs and Border Protection aid a group of migrants (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).

US Customs and Border Protection aid a group of migrants (Photo: US Customs and Border Protection).

 

KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

Altagracia arrived undetected by the authorities, but had she been caught, she might have ended up at the Border Patrol station in Aguadilla, a few hours west of San Juan, where migrants who are apprehended are taken to get processed.

“The best analogy is a door,” says Jeffery Quiñones, a communications officer for US Customs and Border Protection.  “You have to knock on the door and say what your purpose is. If you come to a place that’s not the door, it makes it a crime punishable with immigration law.”

A group of Haitian migrants, just arrived from the sea, await processing at the Border Patrol station. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

A group of Haitian migrants, just arrived from the sea, await processing at the Border Patrol station. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

 

THE DEPORTED

While I’m at the station, a new group of migrants is brought in, just picked up from the sea.

One of them, a Dominican man in handcuffs I’ll call Pedro, had lived undocumented in Puerto Rico for 11 years, working as a welder. One day while he was playing dominoes outside, he was picked up by immigration agents and sent back to the DR.

Since being deported, he’s tried to return to Puerto Rico five times. Each time the boat turned back due to ad weather. Finally, this time he made it across, but his vessel was caught by the Coast Guard. As a repeat migrant, he’ll be prosecuted, and could serve jail time.

“TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN”

Pedro shrugged off his misfortune. “You take a risk knowing you will either win or lose. Either way – amen. They’re two sides of the same coin,” he says.

 Most of the other migrants at the station aren’t Dominican, however, they’re Haitian. They look scared and exhausted as they wolf down plates of rice and beans.

Their presence reflects the changes in immigration patterns to Puerto Rico. Recently, fewer Dominicans are arriving as the Dominican economy improves. At the same time, there’s been an explosion in Haitian migrants. In 2006, only two Haitians were apprehended by Border Patrol. Last year, the number was 600.

WET FOOT, DRY FOOT

The reason so many Haitians are crossing the Mona is what amounts to a de-facto “wet foot, dry foot” policy. When Haitian migrants reach American soil, including the tiny outlying islands that are part of Puerto Rico, US immigration authorities allow them to begin asylum proceedings based on the requirement of “credible fear” of persecution in Haiti.

Those asylum proceedings can take years to resolve, and having an open case allows you to stay and, in many cases, work in the US in the meantime. But if the migrants are caught at sea, even within American waters, they are turned back to Haiti.

As word spreads in Haiti that migrants arriving in Puerto Rico are being allowed to stay, more and more are showing up. The possibility of asylum has created a cruel reality: you’re allowed to live in the United States, if you can make it here alive.

 

Photo 5: The rectory at Father Olin Pierre’s church in San Juan has become a makeshift refugee center for Haitian migrants. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

Photo 5: The rectory at Father Olin Pierre’s church in San Juan has become a makeshift refugee center for Haitian migrants. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

 

HELPING THE WEAK

The Haitians who do make it find help from Father Olin Pierre, a Haitian priest in San Juan.

“It’s a main role of a priest to help the weak,” says Father Olin. “And, they’re my people.”

Puerto Rico has no system in place for dealing with Haitian arrivals, so Father Olin has taken up the slack and turned his church into a makeshift refugee camp. Now, whenever a new Haitian boat comes in, authorities take the migrants straight here.

Cots are laid out all along the floor of the rectory. Women cook a meal of seafood as the guys watch a DVD on a portable player. One of them is 27-year-old William Joseph, who witnessed tragedy in the crossing.

“The trip was not easy,” says Joseph. The waters were rough as they were approaching land, and the Dominican smuggler forced his passengers out of the boat so he could head back quickly. They would have to swim the rest of the way. “But some of us didn’t know how to swim. I tried to save some of them too but… in the end we have five people missing.”

“They had already arrived,” says Father Olin, shaking his head. “They had a bright future ahead of them.” He trails off.

“IT’S LIKE PLAYING THE LOTTERY”

Five of Joseph’s companions drowned. Nobody knows how many migrant bodies lie at the bottom of the Mona Passage. Estimates vary – from single digits to the thousands.

“It’s like playing the lottery,” says Father Olin. For the winners who make it to Puerto Rico, and on to Olin’s church, life in the continental US is so close they can touch it. Olin raises money from his congregation to buy them tickets to Miami or New York, where family members are waiting for them. Almost no one stays in Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, Dominican immigrants, who are generally not granted the “credible fear” status needed to start asylum proceedings, can’t just zip of to the US. Many do try, however. Flights to the mainland are considered domestic, so Dominican migrants just need a fake ID to get on a plane. But, it’s risky. Most choose to remain and work in Puerto Rico, even if they are undocumented. Journalist Carmelo Ruiz says the island completely relies on the Dominican community to function.

“It’s the same dynamic with immigrants in the United States,” says Ruiz. “They do a lot of the worst work and if they left all of a sudden – who’s going to fix my car? Who’s going to mow my lawn? Who’s going to work in construction? I don’t know what would happen but it probably wouldn’t be good.”

 ONCE YOU’VE MADE IT

However, immigration in Puerto Rico doesn’t seem to stir up as much controversy as it does on the mainland.

“Illegal immigration is not necessarily an issue of public concern,” says Jeffery Quiñones, from US Customs and Border Patrol. “There’s no sense that there’s a conflict about their presence in the country.”

Kelvis Polo, the owner of a discount clothing shop in San Juan agrees – the presence of the Dominican just isn’t a big deal.

“Everywhere, you’ll find a few people who are racist,” he says. “But you don’t really see much of that here. You see it more in the States.”

Photo 2: Dominican immigrant Altagracia Pablo poses with her flag. She left dire poverty and immigrated to Puerto Rico 10 years ago. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

Dominican immigrant Altagracia Pablo poses with her flag. She left dire poverty and immigrated to Puerto Rico 10 years ago. (Photo: Marlon Bishop)

 

“PUERTO RICO, I LOVE YOU”

Still, others I spoke to paint a more nuanced picture – Dominicans are the butts of a lot of jokes, and you might hear Puerto Ricans complaining about Dominican moving into the neighborhood. And, with no legal recourse to turn to, labor abuses are common.

“They treat you differently,” says domestic worker Altagracia Pablo. “You can’t complain about anything.

She says employers sometimes try to take advantage of her and make her do more work than she’s paid for. That kind of unfair treatment can make her pine for home. But overall, she says, life in Puerto Rico has been good to her.

“My dream isn’t to go back to the Dominican Republic. It’s to pledge allegiance to this flag, to the United States,” she says. “Truthfully, Puerto Rico, I love you.”

UPDATE 3/21/14:

A previous version of this article stated that Haitian migrants are allowed to stay in Puerto Rico because of a TPS (Temporary Protected Status) for Haiti, as our reporter was originally told by US Customs and Border Protection officials in Puerto Rico. Haitians who have resided in the US continuously since 2011 are still permitted to stay in the US under TPS through 2016, but new arrivals are not granted TPS.

However, Haitians arriving in Puerto Rico by boat are currently being allowed to stay with a “notice to appear” before an immigration court on the US mainland and request asylum status. This occurs if the migrant claims “credible fear” of returning to their country of origin.

The de facto situation on the ground in Puerto Rico is that Haitian migrants are being allowed to stay, while Dominican migrants caught on land or sea are removed to the Dominican Republic.

contributors1

Marlon Bishop HeadshotMarlon Bishop is a radio producer and journalist with a focus on Latin America, New York City, music and the arts. He got his start in radio producing long-form documentaries on Latin music history for the public radio program Afropop Worldwide. After a stint reporting for the culture desk at New York Public Radio (WNYC), Marlon spent several years writing for MTV Iggy, MTV”s portal for global music and pop culture. Marlon has also lived and traveled all over Latin America, reporting stories as a freelancer for NPR, Studio 360, The World, the Village Voice, Billboard and Fusion, among other outlets. He is currently a staff Producer for Latino USA.

COQUITO SUPREMACY

Every year, there is a Coquito taste contest in New York City where the audience decides which is the best of these Puerto Rican holiday drinks. Hear the sounds (and the winner) of one Coquito contest qualifier competition.


Click here to download this week’s show. Image courtesy of Why’d You Eat That (creative commons).

The winner of the Coquito Masters 2012 is Zoraida Graciani. Congrats!

NOTICIANDO: END OF THE YEAR NEWS TACO

Victor Landa, editor of News Taco, fills us in on the deferred action program that give residence and work permits to some undocumented young people, and we check in on a new one-million-dollar scholarship for UC Berkeley students. Plus Puerto Rican prisoners tweet behind bars.


Click here to download this week’s show.

Victor Landa is the founder and editor of NewsTaco, a website that provides news, analysis and critique from a Latino perspective. He worked as a writer and editor for 30 years, mostly with Telemundo and Univisión. Landa also contributed to the San Antonio Express-News, and he is an adviser on media strategy, message crafting, storytelling and public speaking.

 

SOMOS: HOW AMERICAN ARE PUERTO RICANS?

Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but are often made to feel like outsiders. And those residing on the island see their identity differently from those living in the U.S. mainland. The future of the island’s political relation to the U.S. is still in question, but many feel their cultural identity as Puerto Rican first. Part of our regular series of conversations on Latino identity, Somos/We Are.


Click here to download this week’s show.

Explaining Somos

“Somos” is the name of a series that we are starting where we explore issues of Latino identity. We invite you to tell us how you identify yourself by making a video on youtube, posting a comment here, or leaving a message old-school style on our phone (yes, we have a phone attached to a wall!) at 646-571-1228. Don’t forget to tell us your name and where you’re calling us from. And after you post your video, tell us about it here or tweet us! We love hearing from you.

Alejandro Arbona is a freelance writer, editor, and brand research consultant based in New York City. He was born and raised in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where people were constantly under the impression he was an American tourist. As an editor for five years at Marvel Entertainment, Alejandro oversaw, among other things, a series of “Fantastic Four” comic books set in Puerto Rico, prominently featuring Old San Juan, the rainforest of El Yunque, the bioluminescent bay of Vieques, and el chupacabras.

 

Frances Negrón-Muntaner is a filmmaker, writer, and scholar, as well as the director of Columbia University’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Among her books are Boricua Pop: Puerto Ricans and the Latinization of American Culture (CHOICE Award, 2004) and Sovereign Acts (South End Press, 2010). Her films include AIDS in the Barrio (Gold Award at the John Muir Film Festival, 1989), Brincando el charco: Portrait of a Puerto Rican (Whitney Biennial, 1995), and the upcoming television show, War in Guam. Negrón-Muntaner is also a founding board member and past chair of NALIP, National Association of Latino Independent Producers. In 2005, she was named one of the most influential Hispanics by Hispanic Business Magazine, and in 2008, the United Nations’ Rapid Response Media Mechanism recognized her as a global expert in the areas of mass media and Latin/o American studies. Most recently, El Diario/La Prensa selected her as one of the 2010 recipients of their annual “Distinguished Women Award.”

Ray Suarez joined The NewsHour in October 1999 as a Washington-based Senior Correspondent. Suarez has more than thirty years of varied experience in the news business. He came to The NewsHour from National Public Radio where he had been host of the nationwide, call-in news program “Talk of the Nation” since 1993. Prior to that, he spent seven years covering local, national, and international stories for the NBC-owned station, WMAQ-TV in Chicago. He is the author most recently of a book examining the tightening relationship between religion and politics in America, The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America.  Suarez currently hosts the monthly radio program “America Abroad” for Public Radio International, and the weekly politics program “Destination Casa Blanca” for Hispanic Information Telecommunications Network, HITN TV. Suarez was a co-recipient of NPR’s 1993-94 and 1994-95 duPont-Columbia Silver Baton Awards for on-site coverage of the first all-race elections in South Africa and the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, respectively. He was honored with the 1996 Ruben Salazar Award from the National Council of La Raza, and the 2005 Distinguished Policy Leadership Award from UCLA’s School of Public Policy. The Holy Vote won a 2007 Latino Book Award for Best Religion Book.

NOTICIANDO: ELECTION TACO

The presidential race took the spotlight on Election Day, but from congressional and senatorial races to a historical referendum in Puerto Rico, there was more at stake for Latino voters. We speak to Victor Landa, founder and editor of News Taco, for a round up of other election results important to Latinos.


Click here to download this week’s show.

Victor Landa is the founder and editor of NewsTaco, a website that provides news, analysis and critique from a Latino perspective. He worked as a writer and editor for 30 years, mostly with Telemundo and Univisión. Landa also contributed to the San Antonio Express-News, and he is an adviser on media strategy, message crafting, storytelling and public speaking.

QUE BONITA BANDERA

The crown of the Statue of Liberty will again be accessible to the public this month after a year of renovation. But in October 25, 1977, it was the stage for a surprising, even poetic protest that has been forgotten by many. A look back at the day Lady Liberty was taken hostage.


Click here to download this week’s show.

Miguel “Mickey” Melendez is an activist for Latino and Puerto Rican rights and a founding member of the Young Lords. He has taught in the Black and Hispanic studies department at CUNY, Baruch and John Jay colleges. He has a MPA from Baruch College and a Doctor of Law (Honoris Causa) from CUNY, Queens College Law. He is the recipient of the Charles Revson Fellowship at Columbia University. And he is the author of We Took the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights with the Young Lords (St. Martin’s Press, 2003, Rutgers University Press 2006). Currently he can be heard on Pacifica Radio’s Con Sabor Latino on Sundays at 2 p.m. on WBAI 99.5. FM. He is also Assistant to the President of Local 372, NYC, DC37, AFSCME. Photo courtesy of Will Salomon Orellano.

A Conversation With Olympian John Orozco

Maria Hinojosa talks with Olympic gymnast John Orozco of the Bronx.  Orozco is one of two Latino athletes on the US Olympic gymnastic team competing in London.


Click here to download this week’s show. Image courtesy of New News.

John Orozco is an American gymnast and the 2012 Visa National Champion. He currently trains at the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO.

Noticiando

Puerto Rico is the only place in the Western hemisphere where those charged with rape or murder are still eligible for bail. With an all time high in homicides, a new referendum in Puerto Rico could allow judges to deny bail in certain cases. We speak to Julio Varela, blogger and founder of Latino Rebels, to get an idea of what this referendum means and what impact it could have on the island.


Click here to download this week’s show.

 

 

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