Thursday, May 29, 2008



By Rafael Martínez Alequín

The Democratic primary in Puerto Rico is seen as an historical event where average Puerto Ricans are able to cast their vote to select the party nominee for the office of President of the United States. But, they do not have the right to vote for U.S. President or members of Congress.

The Puerto Rican Democratic primary and the increase in the number of Latino voters for president of the United States has opened an opportunity to dispel the notion that Puerto Rico is a colorblind society.

Sadly, racism is as alive and well in the United States and in Puerto Rico today as it was in years gone by. Some even suggest that Puerto Rico is a mulatto society.

In a recent edition of the New York Times, Juan Manuel García Passalacqua a leading political analyst states: “On the U.S. mainland, Obama is black, but not in Puerto Rico. Here he is a mulatto and this is a mulatto society. People here are perfectly prepared to vote for someone who looks like them for president of the United States.”

I disagree with Mr. García Passalacqua's premise. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. As a child I witnessed first hand the discrimination against Black Puerto Ricans and mulattoes . They were the ones who tended the land and did the menial jobs that White Puerto Ricans would not.

When the Hilton Hotel was opened in San Juan, the speaker of the House of Representatives, the late Ernesto Ramos Antonini, was ejected from the ceremony — because he was Black! The specter of racism has always haunted Puerto Rican society. This extends to the politics of the moment.

A conversation with a friend who prefers to remain anonymous, was related to me. He received a telephone call from his mother in Puerto Rico. She told him “We will not vote for a n----r.”

Mr. José Nazario Solá, a board member of various Latino organizations in New York said: “From work and contacts with Puerto Rican social service providers in Puerto Rico, their comments clearly indicate that in Puerto Rico there exists racist attitudes that impact adversely on services to the population.”

Mr. Luis Vassallo, a manager with a company in lower Manhattan said:
“I was born and raised in El Barrio (Spanish Harlem). A Puerto Rican friend of my family told my aunt that she was always welcome in her home, but not her husband — he was Black.’”

I have visited Puerto Rico frequently. I have heard the racial epithets uttered by Puerto Ricans from all social backgrounds against darker Puerto Ricans. Their favorite innuendo is “yo no quiero ese negro aquí” (I don’t want the Blacks here)

Senator Clinton told Puerto Ricans at an event in the island, that if she becomes President she would fight for the island's right to vote directly for President of the United States. However, she “forgot” to tell them that it would require a constitutional amendment.

Meanwhile, back to the Puerto Rican primary next Sunday. According to the polls and the political pundits, Senator Clinton is the favorite to win there. However, the pundits have failed to mention that race is as big a factor in Puerto Rico as it is in the States.

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