Tag: Puerto Rico

Paradise Lost: A Debate on Puerto Rico

By José I. Ortiz

With the government shutdown and the looming debt-ceiling debacle threatening to disrupt the global economy, it’s pretty safe to say that the average American is probably not thinking about Puerto Rico. Why would he?

But I’m not the average American. I am from Puerto Rico and much of my family still lives there. And one day I hope to go back and somehow help make a difference. So I looked forward to attending the Puerto Rico Status Forum, held at New York Law School as part of the Puerto Rican Bar Association’s series on Civil and Human Rights in Puerto Rico. As a student member of the PRBA, I’m on the bar association’s email list but I’m not sure how else someone interested in the topic would have known about it. Judging by the empty seats in a room that probably fits about 100 people, I would say that a few more of the 4.7 million Puerto Ricans in the U.S. (of which 52% live in the Northeast) would have been interested in an event like this. Or, maybe because it was an unseasonably warm October evening, most of my compatriots decided it would be better to daydream about our Caribbean homeland while taking in the outdoors.

As a poor law student, I thought I’d save my appetite for the cornucopia of free food that I was sure to find at this event. Puerto Ricans love to eat. What I found, however, were a few sweets and a whole lot of wine. Well, wine’s good, too.

After welcoming remarks from the PRBA’s president, Elba Galvan, in which she thanked all the pertinent participants and duly highlighted her bar association’s standing as the oldest ethnic bar association in New York City, the floor was given to New York City Council member Rosie Mendez. Apologizing in advance for possibly having to run out during the forum to participate in negotiations with the Bloomberg administration regarding her district, Councilwoman Mendez opened by discussing developments such as the National Lawyers Guild’s involvement in human rights issues including Puerto Rican political prisoners and the U.S. Navy bombings of the island of Vieques which, despite the mostly jacket-and-tie clad audience members in the room, made me feel like this would turn out to be a real conversation and not just a lot of fluff.



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Occupying the Pledge of Allegiance

By José I. Ortiz

Salvador Allende, Chile’s former president and reformer, once said, “To be young and not revolutionary is a contradiction, even biologically.”

I’ve done my fair share of protesting. Back home in Puerto Rico, I’ve participated in marches, sit-ins and the 62-day shut down of my college campus protesting the government’s draconian spending cuts on education. Coming to New York for law school just as the Occupy Wall Street protests began helped calm my homesickness. This is why the story that I read recently about a Maryland high school student’s protest caught my attention.

Ever since she was in the seventh grade, 15 year old Enidris Siurano-Rodríguez of Montgomery County has chosen to sit quietly each morning while her classmates have stood and pledged allegiance to the flag. Earlier this year, one teacher told her that she had to stand. When she refused, she was taken to the principal’s office where she was asked (not too nicely) to explain why she refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance, according to an article in a major Puerto Rican newspaper. Ms. Siurano-Rodríguez – Puerto Rican born but living in Maryland since she was three years old – is protesting what she believes to be an “antidemocratic” political situation between the Caribbean island and the United States.

While it’s unclear whether there have been actual disciplinary measures taken against her by school officials, Ms. Siurano-Rodríguez has been told that she might be separated from the class during the Pledge of Allegiance if she refuses to participate. Can a public school do this? Are school officials legally permitted to hinder a student from quietly protesting just because it might be deemed unpatriotic? LASIS investigates.



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