Helen Ubinas is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States.
Without fail, my fellow Boricuas and I have to repeatedly remind folks of that 103-year-old fact.
For good or bad (very bad when you consider the systemic, second-class treatment of the island), Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Puerto Ricans have been American citizens since 1917. For the love of papa Dios, Google it.
I’ve had to remind otherwise “smart people” of that too many times to count.
I’ve had to set the record straight in casual conversation, in social media interactions with toxic trolls, and in response to newspaper stories about everyone, from the local, inspiring Puerto Rican business owner to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor — stories that “somehow” (Read: lack of diversity) made it through multiple editors.
In 2009, reporters breathlessly reported on Sotomayor’s historic nomination with stories about her parents, who they reported were “immigrants from Puerto Rico.”
Yeah … nope.
Television stations and newspapers, from the Daily Princetonian to The New York Times, ran corrections.
In her Republican National Convention speech Monday night, Kimberly Guilfoyle, a Trump campaign adviser and Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, described herself as “a first-generation American” whose mother is a special-education teacher from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico — from where my father hails. Fact check: He, too, is a U.S. citizen.
Guilfoyle’s full quote: “My mother, Mercedes, was a special-education teacher from Aguadilla, Puerto Rico. My father, also an immigrant, came to this nation in pursuit of the American dream.” (Her father is from Ireland.)
It’s the “also an immigrant” part that made me wish Mama Mercedes was standing in the wings ready to chuck a chancla at the lectern like an old-school Latina mom trying to get her idiota daughter’s attention.
I predicted the comments and tweets and think pieces would come. They always do.
From Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose mother is also from Puerto Rico: “The woman the GOP picked as their ‘proud’ Latina to tout the ‘immigrant experience’ didn’t seem to know that Puerto Rico is already part of the United States.”
To numerous people asking: “Can someone tell Kimberly Guilfoyle Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens?”
We could. And I’m sure, if somehow she missed that part in her personal history, many already have.
Except, here’s the thing. By this point, this isn’t ignorance. It’s racism.
It’s not a mistake, it’s a mechanism by Republicans to define people of color, even U.S. citizens, as “others,” while at the same time pretending to try to make a connection.
It makes me think of how much trouble people seem to have pronouncing Kamala (it’s comma-la), or even the name of the person in your workplace that’s just — shrug — sooooo hard to get right.
It’s actually not.
Simply, it boils down to what information you deem important enough to retain and whom you consider important enough to respect, whether we’re talking about their citizenry or their identity.
If anyone still wonders about the disrespect Trump and his supporters have for Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans, flash back to his throwing paper towels into a crowd after catastrophic Hurricane Maria while crowing that his administration did a “fantastic job.”
In one of the many stories that poked fun at Guilfoyle and her over-the-top scream-speech, a writer from Mashable wrote: “Yet another instance of the Trump administration not checking their facts (or being fine with outright lying when it suits them). There’s really no excuse for not knowing what states and territories make up the country you’re running!”
No excuse, but there are oh-so-many calculated reasons to continue to get it “wrong” with people of color.
Sometime in the not-so-distant future, we’ll be here again, with someone referring to Puerto Ricans as immigrants, and many of us jumping up to correct them. Myself included.
But I won’t just be correcting your “mistake.” I’ll be checking your racism.