On a presidential visit.

This past Monday, President Obama made a visit to my current home state of North Carolina. In fact, he gave his speech on job creation just right up the road at the Cree Technology plant in Durham. Some people got pretty excited about it and waited around all day to see his speech. After all – he’s the President!

The next day, he visited another place that I once called home – San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In Puerto Rico, patriotism looks a little different.

Though many do not realize this, the island of Puerto Rico is a Commonweath of the US, or an “unincorporated territory.” As such, islanders are American citizens, but are not allowed to vote in Presidential elections, nor do they have votes in Congress. This political status is much debated on the island, with a nearly 50/50 split between the New Progressive political party (which advocates for statehood) and the Popular Democratic Party (which prefers to retain Commonwealth status.) A very small minority comprise the Puerto Rican Independence Party (which, as the name suggests, promotes total independence from the United States.)

Now, anybody who has ever seen me before (or heard me speak Spanish!) knows that I am not Puerto Rican. I lived there for only a year, but though I lack boricua blood…I’ve got a lot of boricua love. I feel that I only scratched the surface of Puerto Rican politics during my time on the island, and do not feel confident enough in my understanding of the complex issues to voice a real opinion on the island’s status.

However, I will say this: I find it a bit appalling that this past Tuesday, June 15 marked the first time in 50 years that an American president had visited our citizens in Puerto Rico. (The last visit was made by John F. Kennedy in 1961.)

Looking at politics through a cynical lens, this makes perfect sense. Why would a President take the time to visit there, when the people they’re visiting didn’t put them in office with their votes (and will not re-elect them, either)? This cynicism makes me uncomfortable – it is hard for me to accept the idea that all of our nation’s leaders decisions are in the end, self-serving.

Even this visit had similar undertones. It is no secret than Obama was likely there in an effort to court the Latino vote for 2012 (in fact, hoy en dia there are more Puerto Ricans living stateside and possessing voting rights than remaining on the island itself – many of these living in big swing states.) Still – I’m glad that it happened. As I observed here in Durham earlier this week, it is empowering to receive a visit from your nation’s leader, and our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico deserve that feeling – and perhaps more importantly, the issues they face deserve the attention of Washington.

I wish I could have been in PR on Tuesday for the big presidential visit. My experience was that Puerto Ricans tend to be highly involved and interested in politics, and I’m sure that the excitement and fiesta surrounding this historic visit would blow the hubbub here in North Carolina out of the water.

I’ll close this post with a spot from Jon Stewart regarding Obama’s visit to Puerto Rico. He commented on many of the things that first struck me when I heard about the event – such as the fact that the 4-hour visit was shorter than the time the President spent on the plane to get there, and his hilarious struggles pronouncing arroz con gandules. 

Y ahora, se me antoja….


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