Coming here to study at Wellesley was a dream come true. I always wanted to come to the U.S. mainland, study at a very fancy college and hopefully come back home so I could start my career and a family. But once I came here to the U.S. mainland, I started to realize the differences between me and my American classmates. You see, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, a modern-day colony that belongs to the U.S. I am a U.S. citizen, but I can’t vote for president. I can serve in the U.S. military but I don’t have full representation in Congress. I pay taxes but the local government that I can vote for can have any of its decisions revoked by Congress. Essentially, I am a second-class citizen of the United States.
My relationship with my American citizenship is, to put it simply, complicated. I acknowledge how powerful my citizenship is compared to that of my family in Venezuela whose civil rights and liberties are violated every single day by its authoritarian government. Unfortunately, that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t feel American and my ancestors didn’t have a choice in the matter either. My land was stolen and bombed, my people killed, jailed, abused and ignored. Every time I travel and carry my American passport, I feel guilty and wrong. My passport and image of the American flag waving next to my beloved Puerto Rican flag to me are symbols of the violence and human rights violations my people and I have faced for over half a millennium.
This all became clearer to me on Sept. 20, 2017, the day Hurricane María made landfall in Puerto Rico. I remember seeing over and over again in the news the images of the streets I grew up in being destroyed. I remember how the current administration ignored my people and put the blame on us for the level of damage that the archipelago sustained, and how the press were outraged at how the U.S. government was treating Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. This kind of ignorance by the U.S. has been going on for the past 120 years, and the same went on during Spain’s 400-year colonization of Puerto Rico. Because of the inaction by the U.S. government and Federal Emergency Management Agency, approximately 2,658–3,290 people died because of Hurricane Maria, making it the third deadliest hurricane in US history and surpassing the death toll of Hurricane Katrina by nearly 2,000.
With all of this to consider I ask, “Was it all worth it? Was it worth stealing our land for sugarcane? Was it worth abusing, jailing and killing our people for coffee beans? Why can’t the U.S. see the irony of calling themselves the beacon of democracy when they still to this day hold five colonies in their iron grasp?”