Photo: Ángel G. Flores-Rodríguez
1. Assuming we’re immigrants.
Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory and Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. As in, we use U.S. dollars for currency, don’t need passports or visas to travel within the U.S., and fight in the U.S. Army with you side-by-side. You’d be surprised at how many Americans don’t know this. My Puerto Rican driver’s license has been rejected one too many times.
I used to wonder why this bothered me so much. I think my friend Kathy expressed it best when she said, “Many of my friends don’t know this, but often schools in Puerto Rico are expected to have students sing the U.S. national anthem, along with our own, we put our hands on our chests as we look up to your flag. We are taught from a young age to respect you, your culture, and your history. We are taught to be loyal to you, the same way we send thousands of our people to fight side-by-side with you at war. We only expect to be treated with the same kind of respect.”
2. “You barely have an accent!”
As a U.S. territory, the official languages of Puerto Rico are both Spanish and English. Many people have accents, but many of us don’t. There are many bilingual schools and a heavy presence of American media. In other words, we too binge on Breaking Bad on Netflix and turn up to Beyoncé at the club. As a 90’s girl myself, I grew up with Lizzie McGuire and Hey Arnold as much as the next American kid.
3. “Is your food spicy?”
Every latino is NOT born equal. Mexican food is exactly that. Mexican. There are over 20 Latino countries each with a unique culture and authentic cuisine. Specifically, Puerto Rican food includes rice and beans, plantains in every shape and form, lots of fritters ranging from sorullos (aka corn sticks) to queso frito (aka fried cheese), a plethora of meat, and a decent amount of mayoketchup on the side. And FYI, it’s not spicy.
4. Calling us Spanish.
This is something I came across last year when I first moved from the island to the mainland. In my mind, I’d always identified as a Latina, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Boricua, and/or American. I speak Spanish, but I am not Spanish. I do not dance flamenco, cook paella, or drink (much) sangría. I dance salsa, make mofongo, and drink piña coladas. I wouldn’t call someone from the U.S. English because I recognize that someone English is someone from England. And I recognize that these countries and cultures are completely different. In order to clarify for those who don’t know, Spanish is someone from Spain, Hispanic is someone from a Spanish-speaking country, and Latino is someone from Latin American descent. This is why Spanish people are considered Hispanic, but not Latino and Brazilians are considered Latino, but not Hispanic (they speak Portuguese).
5. “Living on an island must be so laid back, sipping piña coladas on the beach all day.”
Umm, no. The Jones Act states that imported goods must come from U.S. distributors first and foremost, and doesn’t allow us to trade with other countries directly. Consequently, The Jones Act makes every product in Puerto Rico more expensive, resulting in high taxes and an unstable economy. On top of that, the island is over 70 billion dollars in debt and not legally allowed to declare bankruptcy because of its colonial status. Why can’t we do anything about it? Because we can’t vote in the presidential election, even though federal laws apply to us.
If you’re familiar with U.S. politics, you know that the House of Representatives is meant to proportionally represent the population of the country and is responsible for passing U.S. federal laws. Puerto Rico has a larger population than many of the U.S. states, but has only one representative, while other states with a smaller population have up to four representatives. Oh, and he can basically only speak and hope to be heard, but can’t vote when it comes to passing federal laws. Sounds fair. Okay, rant over.
6. “Why are you white?” or “Why are you black?”
There seems to be a stereotype that all Latinos are tan-skinned. This could not be further from the truth. Being Latino is an ethnicity, not a race, which means that there are various races that identify as Latino or Hispanic. I’ve met Latinos that range from pale to dark skinned. The reason for all the variety is because we’re mostly a mix of races, a combination of European colonists, Native Americans, Africans, and much more.