Opinion: Puerto Rico’s Diaspora “Problem”

Recently there has been discussion as to whether or not descendants of Puerto Ricans living in the mainland should be allowed to participate in any future federally-sponsored plebiscite to determine the island’s political future. Even within Latino Rebels, we disagree on this topic. Some of us believe that that those Puerto Ricans living outside the island (especially those who were born on the island) should vote in any future plebiscites (a position supported by Rep. José Serrano of New York), while others (like me) do not.


Here is my case for why they should not. It is based more along the line of social and historical reasons.

The questions are the following:

  • Are the descendants of Puerto Ricans born in the States capable of understanding the current hardships facing the daily lives of those residing in Puerto Rico?
  • Are the descendants of Puerto Ricans in the States even considered cultural Puerto Ricans?
  • Has the emigration from the island created two similar yet different cultures, or is the diaspora a sub-culture that stayed frozen in time of the imaginary and memories of those whom migrated during “the Great Migration?”

According to Jorge Duany in his article “The Nation in the Diaspora: The Multiple Repercussions of Puerto Rican Emigration” (2008):

Puerto Ricans in the United States have reiterated their desire to participate in the definition of the political future of their country of origin (Delgado, 2006; Falcón, 1993, 2007). Judging from the available evidence, the ideological preferences of stateside Puerto Ricans are similar to those of Island residents. For example, a public poll sponsored by the newspaper El Nuevo Día (2004) found that 48 per cent of Puerto Ricans in Central Florida favored the current Commonwealth status, while 42 per cent preferred the Island’s annexation as a state of the union and 5 per cent supported independence.

Angelo Falcón in his essay “The Diaspora Factor: Stateside Boricuas and the Future of Puerto Rico” (2007) states that “a Latino National Politics Survey (LNPS) poll of 1989-90 found that 69% of stateside puerto ricans favored commonwealth.” But Falcón also states that a 2006 survey among the political and activist elite leadership found that 45% favored independence. We must keep in mind that the web survey was limited only to an elite group, and is not a valid tool used to accurately measure a poll sample.

The conclusion that can be based off the polls is that as the emigration of more and more native-born islanders has progressed to the States, support for Statehood has grown within the diaspora, while commonwealth has remained the same, and independence has decreased or remained the same; just like in Puerto Rico.

Therefore, the political argument that most descendants living in the diaspora would favor Commonwealth, or Independence is a myth, and must not be used in a factual examination of the topic at hand. Whether the diaspora supports one formula over the other should not be a valid argument when determining if they should be allowed to participate in a federally-sponsored plebiscite.

Even though the recent influx of Puerto Ricans to the mainland —escaping the worse economic recession since the Great Depression— has brought a new generation to the mainland, these new arrivals come with a different view of Puerto Rico. A vision of Puerto Rico different to the memories of the parents and grandparents of the descendants of Puerto Ricans that migrated during the years of hegemony of the Popular Democratic Party.

In my personal experience, while I was studying my BA in History at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, I had the opportunity to meet Luis Chaluisan, one of the original urban poets of the Nuyorican Poets Café. Chaluisan spent around a year in Mayagüez, living in his family’s house in the urban center of the city. I remember quite vividly one conversation I had with him, in which he stated that “this isn’t the Puerto Rico that my father talked to me about.”

I have two cousins whom were born and raised in the States, and neither of them cares for the realities and problems of the every day life in the island. Puerto Rico is more of a tourist destination, to visit family, but that’s about it.

How can these descendants whom have absolutely no idea of how it is to live under a colonial regime be able to vote in a plebiscite that is foreign to them? I’m not saying that there are exceptions, but the general diaspora of those whom are descendants, in not just the enclaves in New York, Chicago, and Orlando, cannot fathom the basic realities of living in Puerto Rico.

Now whether or not the descendants of Puerto Ricans can be considered cultural Puerto Ricans is an ongoing debate. Culture depends on the individual family nucleus. Just like there are descendants of Puerto Ricans who “feel very much” Puerto Rican, there are other whom do not. But should culture be a determining factor to participate in any binding vote? I think not.

The unique colonial nature of Puerto Rico makes it impossible to compare with the electoral process of foreign nations, like the Dominican Republic, or Venezuela, who have included their diaspora in the constitutional arrangements. Puerto Rico’s constitutional arrangement is limited to the island’s physical limitations, and the federal Constitution is still above the local Constitution. Our citizenship has been American since 1917, and even for international sports, the passport used is the American passport.


Therefore, culture is not a determining factor that should be used to decide whether or not the diaspora should participate in a binding vote.

Finally, in regards to the third question I raised earlier, it depends on the different group one identifies within the diaspora. Descendants, have indeed created a different sub-culture of the diaspora. This is a normal defense mechanism due to the anti-immigration and xenophobic attitudes some other Americans have against Latino American citizens and non-citizens.

That reaction and defense mechanism is not needed in Puerto Rico, were the majority are native-born, and where immigrants tend to assimilate to Puerto Rican culture more often than not. Puerto Rican culture in the mainland is highly nationalistic, when compared to the culture and attitude of those of us who live in the island.

In conclusion, it is up to the residents of Puerto Rico, and only the residents, to decide the future of the island, and not the citizens who left for whatever reason they may have had.


No es verdad que hay 3 opciones de estatus político para Puerto Rico

El gobierno de Estados Unidos (EEUU) le ha hecho creer a muchos puertorriqueños que existen 3 opciones de estatus político para Puerto Rico.¡Eso, no es cierto!EEUU quiere con eso poner a los puertorriqueños a pelear entre nosotros mismos.¡Su estrategia ha sido genial! Tenemos 116 años como colonia de EEUU y la evidencia de que el 80% de los puertorriqueños salen a votar en las elecciones coloniales demuestra que la gran mayoría de nosotros todavía no nos hemos dado cuenta de ese embuste.

En realidad, solo hay una opción.¡Eso lo dice la ley internacional a través de la Organización de Naciones Unidas (ONU)!La ONU determinó en el 1960 que el coloniaje es un crimen en contra de la humanidad.Desde entonces, la ONU le ha pedido al gobierno de Estados Unidos que inmediatamente descolonice a Puerto Rico.Eso quiere decir que el gobierno de EEUU está obligado a entregarle a Puerto Rico a soberanía que ilegalmente le quitó como resultado de su invasión militar del 25 de julio de 1898.

EEUU, hasta hoy, ha ignorado las 33 resoluciones de la ONU para descolonizar a Puerto Rico.Para esconder eso, y para aparentar ser democrático, EEUU ha querido empujarnos plebiscitos para que los puertorriqueños decidan si queremos continuar siendo su colonia, convertirnos en un estado de EEUU, o descolonizarse (independencia) como lo ha determinado la ONU.

El problema con los plebiscitos que empuja EEUU es que:

  1. No cumple con la ley internacional de que una nación no puede tener una colonia.

  2. No cumple que la solución de la ley internacional es que la nación que tiene la colonia tiene que entregarle su soberanía.

  3. No cumple con la ley internacional en cuanto a que para decidir libremente lo que quiere un pueble, primero tiene que ser libre (descolonizado).

  4. Tiene 2 opciones que va en contra de lo que un pueblo colonizado puede escoger- continuar siendo una colonia e integrarse al imperio.Solo la opción de integrase al imperio sería posible cuando la colonia primero tenga su soberanía y luego lo decida así.

Por eso, tenemos que hacer 3 protestas anualmente hasta lograr que EEUU cumpla con la descolonización inmediata de Puerto Rico.

José M López Sierra



Dear Partner,

After the approval of the 33rd United Nations’ resolution by consensus on June 23, 2014 asking the United States (US) to immediately decolonize of Puerto Rico, we should work together to force the United States government to comply with it.

The facts that the United States government has maintained Puerto Rico as its colony for 116 years, has had Oscar López Rivera in prison for 33 years for fighting for Puerto Rico decolonization, and has ignored 33 UN resolutions to decolonize Puerto Rico, confirm that the US government has no intentions of ever decolonizing Puerto Rico.Therefore, we need to form a tsunami of people to force the US to comply with the 33 resolutions.

We should peacefully protest at least 3 times a year until we achieve our goal.The first one will be a march up to the US Courthouse in Puerto Rico on the Abolition of Slavery Day on March 22.The second will be another march in Puerto Rico on a day before the UN’s Puerto Rico decolonization hearing.The third one will be a protest in New York City on the same day the UN holds its Puerto Rico decolonization hearing.

These 3 protests are indispensable, because those who have colonies don’t believe in justice for all.


José M López Sierra

[email protected]

Comité Timón del Pueblo

United Partners for the Decolonization of Puerto Rico



Thanks for the shout out. Interesting that I am returning to Live in Puerto Rico in my retirement. 2009 Mayaguez may not have been the "Puerto Rico" my father talked to me about but it offers the lifestyle I want now. Things Change ...