Saraiva: What makes someone an American?

    The following is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.

    What is it like to be a U.S. citizen? As someone who was born and raised in Brazil and just set foot in this country a couple of weeks ago, I surely don’t know. However, there are over 300 million voices out there that can answer this question. 3.4 million of those, though, are hardly being heard. For one reason or another, the voices of the Puerto Ricans claiming their U.S. citizenship from the Caribbean Sea are not receiving enough attention.

    According to The New York Times, more than half of Americans don’t know Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. In fact, Puerto Rico has been a U.S. commonwealth – essentially a fancy word for “colony” – since 1952, which means they have rights and responsibilities based on U.S. laws, including the right to hold an American passport.

    For years, the island has dealt with economic and social problems, but the situation has become even more chaotic as it has faced a sequence of natural disasters. Even so, the U.S. government continues to overlook Puerto Rico’s issues and fellow U.S. citizens are barely aware of the fact that they – the people and the problems – exist.

    When hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit Texas and Florida weeks ago, the country was devastated; with more than 80 people dead, citizens from coast to coast expressed a sense of helplessness as they watched the storms unfold on TV.

    Many sprang into action. From volunteering with the Red Cross to posting supportive messages on Facebook, these tragedies united Americans.

    Not long after the U.S. started to recover from the devastations, however, Puerto Rico received a double blow from Hurricane Maria. When it arrived, bringing Irma-level winds and Harvey-level flooding, around 80,000 people were already without electricity from Hurricane Irma. In strategic places hospitals, there was no portable water, let alone supplies.

    The results of the U.S. government’s oversight were disastrous: So far, 34 people have been found dead. However, the lack of accurate information from authorities and the distress caused by miscommunication could easily make that number higher. Even so, it is not receiving enough attention.

    The U.S. government sent supplies and task-force members to the commonwealth – although according to the Center for a New American Security it was not nearly enough – and President Trump said he would visit the island himself. But as leaders, that is their duty. The least expected from them would be to care.

    I, however, want to talk about the common people, the ones that work daily to make their country a better place. A quick Google search shows that both “Hurricane Irma” and “Hurricane Harvey” have twice as many results as “Hurricane Maria.” The same happens on Twitter. Are Americans informed about what is going on in Puerto Rico, or do they just not care?

    In the remix of the song “Mi Gente,” released to help raise funds for the recovery of Caribbean islands, J. Balvin and Beyoncé prompt the question: “Where are my people?” Some are here, in the mainland, starting to take a stand for you, Puerto Rico. Hamilton’s world-renowned creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, just announced the release of a new song dedicated to the victims of Maria.

    “It’s a love letter to Puerto Rico,” he said. With famous voices taking a stand and raising awareness for the issue, their people, U.S. citizens, will possibly start to care.

    Why is it so hard to remember that Puerto Rico is also part of the U.S.? What makes one an American? Having English as your native language? Loving football or baseball or both?

    According to U.S. former president Barack Obama, what makes someone American is “the allegiance to our founding principles.” In a country that builds its identity upon diversity and freedom, there should not be a distinction among its citizens and how they treat each other.

    As an outsider, I may not know what being an American really means. But I know what it is like to feel like you belong. And like you don’t. I’ve been on both sides of the coin. And I bet many of you have as well, whether in a social group, a school club or even a country. That’s why I ask that you stand for your fellow citizens that are suffering in Puerto Rico. Lives are lives, whether in the mainland or on the island. Let the voices of those hurting in Puerto Rico be heard as much as the ones in Florida and Texas, not because they are as American as you, but because they are as human.


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