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It shouldn't take a hurricane to learn that Puerto Rico is part of America

Esther J. Cepeda on

As with all subjects that are taught in school -- with the exception of writing and math -- geography and civics are pretty watered down. In units about the geography of the United States, it's rare for much time (if any) to be spent on Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands or other American territories.

As such, Puerto Ricans are not alone in these sorts of misunderstandings. My younger son's best friend is from St. Croix, and he is forever forced to deliver his elevator speech about it being part of the U.S. Virgin Islands and that he is a U.S. citizen. (And in stark contrast to the media's albeit late reaction to the plight of Puerto Rico following recent hurricanes, few are talking about the devastation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.)

As a music geek, the media and public's anemic handling of the aftermath of Puerto Rico's hurricane-related destruction - largely because too few realize that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. -- got Stephen Sondheim and Leonard Bernstein's "America" looping through my brain.

"West Side Story" has always been my favorite musical, but the tragedy made me listen with new ears.

Anita and Rosalia duel about the charms and challenges of Puerto Rico with Anita complaining: "Always the hurricanes blowing, always the population growing." Later the chorus sings the fundamental misnomer, "Immigrant goes to America, Many hellos in America," before it immediately corrects itself:

"Nobody knows in America, Puerto Rico's in America!"

Repeat after me: Puerto Ricans are not immigrants or foreigners. If anything good can come out of the suffering and devastation our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico are experiencing, let it be that they can rebuild their community to be stronger than ever. And, maybe, their fellow citizens on the mainland can finally understand their citizenship status better.

It's past time to do so. After all, Puerto Ricans are the second largest Hispanic-origin group in the U.S., there are more Puerto Ricans living on the mainland of the United States than on the Island, and the majority of them were born here. It really shouldn't have taken a weather tragedy to bring these facts to light.

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Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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