The few years I spent training in the military taught me several things. Today, one such thing stands out. Between my freshman and sophomore years of college, while in Basic Combat Training at Ft. Jackson, I met many Puerto Rican soldiers. In fact, their over-representation in my training company was shocking. With over 200 members, at least a quarter of them hailed from our Caribbean isle to the South. That is fifty to sixty men and women. I have to say: That thoroughly impressed me.
I was concerned when I heard about the recent estimate from Harvard that 4,600 Puerto Ricans had died as a result of Maria. This article from The Washington Post explains why that estimate is almost certainly too high and that a realistic number, based on many other estimates, is around 1,000. This still shows a huge problem with how the federal government and, by extension, President Trump have handled this. Their official estimate stands at 64, about one fifteenth of scholarly estimates, which is jarringly lower.
If we go with the figure of 1,000, that is the annihilation of my training company five times. It is the annihilation of the Puerto Rican soldiers in my training company about twenty times. Then, we have to figure how many more are suffering from injuries, from the loss of homes and property, and from the loss of commerce. It is going to be several thousands, and Trump has continually pussyfooted the relief efforts. When Sandy sucker-punched the Northeast, there was almost no hesitation in rallying leaders to provide aid. Why is this so different?
Do not say that Puerto Ricans do not contribute to the American system in the same way that the urban centers of the Northeast do. When so many of them wear the uniform, so that folks like Chris Christie can enjoy civilian life, it is not possible to say that honestly. Allow me to step out of my personal anecdote and show what the actual figures say.
Last year, NBC reported that about 45,000 Puerto Ricans were currently serving in an active or reserve status in the U.S. military (not counting Puerto Ricans who have joined National Guards of the 50 States). This comes to about 1.3% of their population, at the very least. The U.S. military as a whole reports just over 2 million personnel, thereby comprising about 0.6% of the national population. The data, therefore, are clear: Puerto Ricans are serving at more than double the rate of the average American.
The fact we have been unable to meet the needs of such a devoted slice of our citizenry — and lest we forget, they are our citizens — is deeply depressing. Whatever benefit of the doubt that we might give the President and his administration for not being racist is hard to justify in a moment such as this. Trump is currently going out of his way to prop up coal plants, even at a loss! One has to wonder if looking like the voters of Appalachia would get Puerto Ricans the aid that they need.
The elections in November are our chance at retribution for this injustice. Wherever we manage to flip seats, we must use that gained ground to help our brother island. The Democrats that we put into power must see this as a demand of their voters, something that is not negotiable. When most of the island is still without power, and when another hurricane season is on the way, we cannot afford to sweep this under the rug. Now is not the hour for equivocal men and women.
We have a moral duty to stand in solidarity with Puerto Rico. Make sure your Congressman knows that. When you shake hands with the Democratic candidate running for your district, make sure you tell them this. Burn the importance of this issue into their minds, for it would be an error to assume that Democrats cannot fail minorities in the same way that Republicans do. Even the well-meaning can grow complacent.
While we are at it, we should fund a general expansion of infrastructure on Puerto Rico. We should seek to modernize the island and allow its people, who pay their dues, to enjoy the advancements that our urban centers on the continent enjoy. We should suffer no illusion that the mission ends by merely cleaning up the damage caused by Maria.
We need to look to Puerto Rico with a similar ethos that John F. Kennedy saw in regards to Germany, with his famous statement “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Likewise, we should all look inside, tap into our cosmopolitan spirits, and be able to say, “Yo soy Boricua.”