HOST INTRO: Yesterday was an important day in Puerto Rican history. It marked the 100th anniversary of the passage of the Jones-Shafroth Act, which granted a limited form of U.S. citizenship to anyone born in Puerto Rico. It was a complex AND significant turning point for the people of the island. And, today, Puerto Ricans are still grappling with what their relationship with the U.S. should be. In New York City, a group of artists are using the anniversary of the Jones Act as a moment to reflect on this contentious issue. Meg Dalton has the story.
DALTON 1: Rows of black-and-white canvasses fill the walls of the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural and Educational Center in lower Manhattan. Dozens of people are mingling, bomba music streams in the background, and four friends are playing a friendly game of dominoes in the middle of the room. It’s the opening reception of a new multimedia art exhibit called Citicien (Ci ta si en). Adrian Viajero Roman (Ah dri an Via-jhero Ro maan) is the curator. Altogether, 100 artists came together for the project.
It’s very reflective of how we feel as a diaspora, including the island, on how we feel about how we’re being treated as citizens, more like second class citizens.
DALTON 3: 100 years ago, the Jones Act put Puerto Rico under federal control, but didn’t give it representation in Congress. And its residents can’t vote for president. The law started a debate that continues today over Puerto Rico’s relationship with the U.S.
DALTON 4: Roman says it was important to capture this tension in the new exhibit. One of his pieces is a reflection on Puerto Rican immigration. The 12-by-12 canvas combines an old family photo, vintage handwritten letter, Puerto Rican birth certificate, and an envelope with the PanAm logo on it. PanAm was the first commercial airline to bring Puerto Ricans from the island.
A lot of my work deals with migration, identity, and race. My piece is targeting the migration, the puerto rican that migrated in 1940s.
DALTON 5: Roman’s collage, like other pieces in the exhibit, focuses on how the artists understand their relationship with their U.S. citizenship. Which is something that all Puerto Ricans think about, says Frances Negron-Muntaner (NE GROAN MON TA NEAR). She’s a Puerto Rican scholar and filmmaker.
One word that might encompass everyone’s feelings is conflicted. I think people are deeply conflicted about the meaning of citizenship, and that totally has to do with what that means for Puerto Ricans on the island.
DALTON 6: Puerto Rico is an incorporated territory of the United States. This means it belongs to, but is not part of the U.S. And Negron-Muntaner says that has a whole lot of political and economic implications for the people on the island.
DALTON 7: Today, most Puerto Ricans fall into three different categories. They’re either for statehood, independence, or some variation of the status quo. For a long time, most people wanted independence. But that support has declined as the Puerto Rican population has grown on the U.S. mainland. Most people agree that change is needed. But they worry what both outright autonomy AND statehood could mean for the country.
I think the best that most people can do is they can see the bright side of that to some extent, the way that it allows for free mobility between the island and the mainland. But i don’t think there’s any puerto rican who is satisfied in any part of the political spectrum with having a citizenship in effect marginalized you and excludes you from larger body politic.
DALTON 8: These days, there’s been a push for a happy medium, something called free association. It’s a status that would allow Puerto Rico to maintain its relationship with the U.S. AND gain more autonomy when it comes to things like trade. But Negron-Muntaner says this debate won’t be resolved anytime in the near future.
In order to have a transformation or a change, you’re gonna need a certain kind of leadership in puerto rico, even a certain kind of leadership in the United State, that commits to this change.
DALTON 9: It’s been a whole century since the Jones Act granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans. That’s a long time to be stuck in a political limbo. Given the political climate here and in Puerto Rico, there’s no reason to think the status will change anytime soon.
Meg Dalton, Columbia Radio News.