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Massachusetts Puerto Ricans show support for island’s self determination

Morgan C. Mullings
Staff reporter covering state and local politics. Report for America Corps Member. VIEW BIO
Massachusetts Puerto Ricans show support for island’s self determination
Puerto Rican activists and elected officials discuss the island's political status.

The Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act is gaining traction in Boston. City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo introduced a resolution to support the right of Puerto Rico’s residents to end their status as a U.S. territory.

Arroyo spoke in support of the act, and shared his personal experience as a Puerto Rican, at a virtual event with other supporters on April 15.

“Folks who come from Puerto Rico [are] the largest percentage of the Latino population in the city of Boston. And what we’ve all known my entire life is that my homeland is a colony,” Arroyo said. The day before, the City Council voted unanimously to pass his resolution in support of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act.

“My homeland does not have the same rights or the same abilities to navigate its own future, as other countries do, and that is wrong,” he continued.

The city councilor was joined by U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Holyoke City Councilor Libby Hernandez, state Sen. Adam Gomez, state Rep. Orlando Ramos, and former Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz. All support giving Puerto Rico the choice to become a state, become independent, free association or some other agreement with the U.S., through the bill created by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Nydia Velázquez, cosponsored by Pressley.

“This is bold and sweeping legislation that will affirm the dignity and the humanity of the Puerto Rican people by establishing a fair transparent and inclusive process to determine a longterm solution to the island’s political status,” Pressley said.

The bill would create a status convention where delegates representing voters in Puerto Rico would convene and come up with a new arrangement. It is currently up against another bill that fast-tracks Puerto Rico’s statehood instead of leaving the decision up to the country itself.

For Sen. Gomez, this issue is about decolonizing Puerto Rico. Though he and other panelists refused to say whether or not they supported statehood, he made sure to be clear that the decision should not be in the hands of Congress alone.

“Regardless of what my position [is], how I feel, the Puerto Rican people need to take this vote. It needs to be binding, and the diaspora is the one that needs to push Congress to give them that right,” Gomez said.

Gomez was the first Puerto Rican elected to the Massachusetts State Senate. He noted that Puerto Ricans make up the largest Latino population in Boston, and they are the 5th largest Puerto Rican population in the country. When Hurricane Maria happened, Puerto Rican Bostonians continued to step up in support of their home country, including the small amount of Puerto Rican elected officials. They’re counting on each other and fellow elected officials to join in. So far, they have the support of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Sen. Edward Markey, U.S. Rep. James McGovern, U.S. Rep. Richard Neal and state Rep. Jon Santiago.

The former San Juan mayor, Cruz, is set on giving Puerto Rico free association with the U.S. She is from the island but recently moved to Massachusetts.

“I believe in free association, but more importantly than what any one of us believe is, what process are we going to believe in, and is that process going to be based on truth?” she said.

Cruz warned that being free can come with consequences, and those consequences need to be laid out clearly in the law. The Mariana Islands are an example of a free association, but Puerto Rico would be different — Puerto Ricans have been counted U.S. citizens since 1917. Losing that citizenship could be a problem, and losing federal aid as well

“That is the importance of Congresswoman Velazquez and Ocasio-Cortez’s bill, is that it establishes a committee of dialogue where those questions are going to be answered, and the people of Puerto Rico are going to be voting with an informed decision,” Cruz said.

carmen yulin cruz, independence, puerto rico, statehood