When the state does not adopt effective means for protecting its most needy citizens, social costs intensify. The poor and those who have exportable labor or professional skills and feel excluded, marginalized or without opportunities to improve their living conditions consider emigrating. They look for a personal exit. In the case of Puerto Rico, this emigration is aimed at the United States because of the escape valve represented by U.S. citizenship. The emigration of Puerto Ricans to the United States has been greater than from other territories that are or have been under its colonial or neocolonial control. This phenomenon has social and human consequences that are often underestimated. A Puerto Rican who lives on the island is part of an ethic, racial and cultural majority. In the United States, however, the Puerto Rican becomes a minority and a victim of discrimination because of ethnic origin.

The Puerto Rican emigrant begins to differentiate himself in many ways from those who remained on the island. Among these differences is the electoral participation rate, which is relatively high in Puerto Rico (78%) and much lower in the United States. About two thirds of the population of Puerto Rican origin in the United States does not exercise the right to vote or register to vote. Voting for local officials can be an effective way to legitimize leadership that acts to represent Puerto Rican interests, as has been the case with Luis Gutiérrez and Nydia Velázquez. Another part of the migratory experience, sometimes, is the transfer of national loyalties. The term Hispanic-American, which is used in the United States to designate descendants of Latin American immigrants, is similar in its identifying function to that of African-Americans to refer to U.S. blacks. What this points out is that both ethnic groups are not part of the dominant culture, which is white, European and Protestant. Samuel Huntington, in his writings on the effects of the recent waves of migration on U.S. national identity, insists that the entrance of Hispanics should be limited, because he considers them to have a contaminating effect on the health and integrity of the white, Anglo-Saxon culture. For many immigrants, this creates personal insecurities about their identity, which sometimes leads to feelings of insecurity or being insufficient.

Some immigrants and children of immigrants believe that the best way to live with this discrimination is to assimilate. They try to blend in by living in Anglo neighborhoods and modifying their names. But alongside those who think this way are others who long to return to their country, who perceive their culture as more human and dignifying than the U.S. culture and insist on creating collective nuclei where the traditional culture is valued and they live with their customs.

Author: José Javier Colón Moreira
Published: September 04, 2015.

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