As midterm elections approach, all eyes are on the Puerto Ricans, who could swing key contests.
In the video above, we go deep into Central Florida to find out what's on the minds of these voters. But based on the comments section from the last time we wrote about Puerto Rican voters, there are still some misconceptions we feel the need to dispel. Here are some basic facts.
1. PUERTO RICANS ARE NOT MEXICAN. OBVIOUSLY.
Some of the comments in a recent Fusion article about Puerto Ricans would lead one to believe that all Latinos should be lumped in one group. Let’s be clear: Mexico is a country south of the United States; Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean. Like Mexicans, Puerto Ricans speak Spanish and have Spanish colonial roots. Unlike Mexicans, they are U.S. citizens and have been since 1917 when Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act granting them citizenship. Puerto Ricans have a U.S. passport and can travel and move freely within the United States.
Now that doesn’t mean Puerto Ricans have all the same rights as Americans. While they’re perfectly free to fight and die in U.S. wars, they don’t have the right to elect the commander-in-chief who sends them into battle. But they can if they move to one of the 50 states. If that’s not an incentive for moving to Florida, I don’t know what is. That, and Disney World.
2. PUERTO RICO’S NOT A FOREIGN NATION. IT’S A TERRITORY. WHATEVER THAT MEANS.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated U.S. territory. It’s not a state. It’s not independent. It’s somewhere in between. It has a governor and a legislature but U.S. Congress can overrule any action taken by the Puerto Rican government. It has a resident commissioner in the U.S. House of Representatives who acts like a congressman in every way except he can’t vote. In other words, he’s a bench player…who won’t even get off the bench if the entire team gets injured.
Puerto Ricans who live on the island pay most U.S. federal taxes except for personal income tax. They pay Social Security. A third of them rely on food stamps, assistance which comes in handy on an island where the jobless rate is more than 14 percent. That said, if Puerto Ricans were just a bunch of lazy welfare-lovers, they probably wouldn’t be moving at a record pace to the U.S. mainland seeking job opportunities. According to a Pew Hispanic Report, more than 144,000 Puerto Ricans moved from the island to the U.S between 2010-2013, with a majority relocating in Central Florida.
3. PUERTO RICANS AREN’T ALL DEMOCRATS
Unlike the large population of Puerto Ricans living in the northeast of the U.S., who are mostly Democrats, the growing number of Puerto Ricans who have recently migrated from the island to Florida are up for grabs. They tend to be social conservatives but are concerned with economic issues such as raising the minimum wage.
Puerto Ricans in Florida are political swingers, crossing party lines for whatever candidate they prefer in local and national elections. A slight majority voted for George Bush in 2004. In 2008, they voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama.
One of the reasons they flip flop is because political parties in Puerto Rico are different than the ones here. On the island, they are centered around political status ideology—whether Puerto Rico should become a state, remain a commonwealth or become an independent country. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans.
4. PUERTO RICANS ARE TIRED OF THE SAME OLD SAME OLD.
In 2012, a majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of statehood for the first time, in a referendum to determine the island’s political status. They’ve had four such referenda since the 1960s but each time voted to remain a commonwealth. Why statehood now? It may have something to do with the fact that the Puerto Rican economy still hasn’t recovered from the Great Recession, and crime, poverty and unemployment rates on the island are higher than any of the 50 states.
Being granted statehood has always raised concerns that Puerto Rico would be an economic drain on the United States. However, a Government Accountability Report published in March 2014 challenges that assumption. Whether Americans can handle 51 stars on the flag is another issue.
5. PUERTO RICAN CELEBRATIONS AREN’T JUST ABOUT PORK AND DANCING.
Scratch that. They actually are.
Natasha Del Toro is an Emmy award-winning journalist covering injustice, underdogs, latinos and other stuff. Lover and presenter of docs. Boricua with Southern roots.