From: Hammed Silva Arroyo
A Run-Of-The-Mill Puerto Rican
This is an open letter to you, which I know you will probably not read. It is a lengthy letter; I am known by my peers for being too detailed and long-winded when I speak my mind. This one, although long, it’s resumed and concise in nature, given the current state of things here. I don’t have the energy or the time to depict years of issues so you can try to understand in less than 10 minutes what this is all about. Now, you will be coming to Puerto Rico soon, and I will not be able to see you when you do, as I will be working, trying to earn my keep. This is why I wrote this letter to post in my obscure blog and link to the local newspaper, in hopes that maybe, somehow, you or one of your aides can read it and you can take a glimpse into my mind. It’s written in English for obvious reasons. I like to think my English is good, and always like to point out that this is the product of PUBLIC SCHOOLING, which is in dire need of help.
It certainly is an honor for me to welcome you to our humble island. I admire your work and your resolve in everything you do. I believe you have brought about change to the nation, as promised, and I still believe you have much work to do. I understand that getting a divided house to stand is not an easy task, but you seem like you are doing a terrific job at it, from MY point of view, no matter what naysayers spew forth. What I believe is not here or there, though. It is an honor for the greater many of us to receive you here, at The Enchantment Island. Our government officials are quickly doing now for you what they should have done for us, their townsfolk, without having to beg or expect a person of your stature to come to the island. For example, there are some roads (those of which you will “most likely” be driven by) that are being repair and re-paved, for your enjoyment. You can call it a “face wash”. This roadwork is done because you are coming in, because we would probably not see this kind of rush otherwise. You, of course, will hear otherwise: that this was planned, or that this was in the books with the ARRA funds you had approved. The sad part is, since you may have no business in Puerto Rico other than on a political agenda, you will probably not notice it. After all, you will be here the better of 5 hours, and be driven around from point A to point B to point C while you look into your own paperwork. Our government will only show you the face they want you to see anyway, in case you do decide to look up. Don’t feel bad, though, Mr. President. This is the same for you as it is for athletes coming by for a few weeks, or foreign dignitaries visiting, and pretty much every other tourist that passes our airport or seaport gates. The reality of MY Puerto Rico, Mr. President, is a much grimmer one.
You see, in Puerto Rico, as of the date of June 30th, we’ve had 460 violent murders, 3,238 reported thefts, and 3,333 Grand Theft Auto cases (that have been accounted for). You probably don’t know this, since you are occupied with much more pressing issues, like the capture and ultimate assassination of Osama Bin Laden in the name of Justice and Peace, but you should know that Puerto Rican police and government agencies are known to tweak statistics for many crimes, including theft and vandalism. The Enchantment Island, outside from the invisibly cordoned tourist area, is a lawless country. And, of course, my explanation follows.
We have a government-run police that is in precarious condition. Most of the time, we hear in the news that there are no funds available for weapons and equipment upgrades. What’s more, caches of them get stolen from time to time and get turned around to crime. We also read constantly that there is not enough funds to pay the force, let alone their overtime… which happens almost weekly.
This demoralized force has a low citizen approval rate. They are not respected, and they do not respect the community. Like a badly-drawn comic of a heavily burdened matrimony about to break up, the citizens see the police as both their protectors and their demise, much like the estranged wife sees her separated husband. This stems from the fact that people here are abused, pushed, peppered sprayed, groped, bullied and subdued roughly, mentally and physically. From simple traffic stops to strikes and protests, we are always under siege. I can partly understand how this comes to pass. You see, Mr. President, when you have a demoralized, underpaid, overworked and understaffed police body that has delusions of grandeur and thinks it’s above that law which they are sworn to uphold and protect, you have a problem in your hands. You have the Puerto Rican Police.
Let’s not go too deep on that issue; I don’t want a subversive record held against me for my opinions about the law. I do have to say that, if their work state is precarious (and they are part of the government), ours, the regular Joes, have it much worse. But I am sure you already knew this, I mean, if your concern is truly Puerto Rico and its status, and your visit is not a ploy to gather the voting Latino favor in the Continental U.S. Yes, we read the news… and this is what it’s being said. I would hope neither you nor your staff considers us Indians on horses and cowboys on carriages, like many of the Continental U.S. Citizens, who don’t know Puerto Rico from Zimbabwe or Malaysia.
I know that the unemployment and the economy issue is hard everywhere in the States. We are a victim, too. Perhaps more of a victim just because we are here. What separates us from the rest of the CONTINENTAL U.S. is that we are an island in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by even poorer islands. We pay more for everything, and we make less than the greater part of the Continental U.S. This surcharges include taxes and fees for shipping and handling among other laws that I am sure you know of. So, it is very difficult to make ends meet when the median household income in 2009 was $18,314. I read somewhere on the Internet (which its infrastructure sucks, by the way) that this is comparable to places like Latvia or Poland.
I also read that, by comparison, the poorest state of the U.S. (that would be Mississippi), had a median household income of $36,646 that same year. In Chicago, the median household income of Hispanics in 2009 was $41,802. To add insult to injury, we are subject to economic discrimination by many companies, both in U.S. and Internationally. They limit our access to products, or offer them at higher prices to us. Add the extremely high shipping charges by UPS, DHL, FedEx, you name it, and we are pretty much robbed. Pick any on-line store and see its shipping policy. It IRKS us when we are told by some people we are part of the U.S. for some things, and then other people regards us as “international” for others. Our pride gets hurt, Mr. President. We have no identiy.
I know this is a status issue, and that you are bound and committed to either let us fix this, make us fix this, or fix it for us, right? It says so in your latest “President Task Force on Puerto Rico”. And I want to believe you. I truly do.
Puerto Rico has an extremely high unemployment rate. Most of them are unemployed because they WANT to be unemployed. You know how this goes: if the government supplies for their living, not to help, but to SURVIVE, where is the need to work? When you have citizens that are content living under the poverty line with a tin roof over their heads, rice and beans and the barest of all necessities, all met by the government, why work? We need to HELP out and not MAINTAIN people. We need help to push onward. We don’t need the means to stall.
Our crime rate is through the roof, as I mentioned before. Just yesterday (June 9, 2011), a newscast was published, that informed of a man that was hiding in a shrubbery, in the median of the freeway. This man came out and started shooting at a car that was just passing by. The two occupants, one of them a TV personality, were hurt and luckily they were able to drive themselves to the hospital If they would have been badly hurt, they would have probably died right there; the traffic jams are so bad here that an ambulance would have probably not arrived on time. Furthermore, people driving here would not let them through… some because they would have no space in the shoulder; most of them because they would already be mad at traffic and would simply flick their fingers and utter their curses. There would be cars driving by the shoulder at top speed to skip traffic, or police speeding by with their lights on, pretending to tend to an emergency call, only to find them down the road at a gas station having a soda or a beer. I know, because I have seen it. In fact, roll down your window while you are here and ask anyone who would speak English to you.
Our school system now is in critical condition. Schools that are also meant to serve as shelters in case of emergencies are never ready to start the school year. The infrastructure is lacking maintenance, and represents a danger to our kids. Teachers are lacking, their moral is low. The school materials are heavily dated and the curriculum is based in the U.S. Teaching system. There is no Puerto Rican identity. Even so, given the choice, and if people would have the money at hand, they would rush to the nearest overpriced private school and enroll their kids there. But, guess what? Our “private schools” here are nothing greater than a public school in Florida. Public school here is a business modeled after public American schools. Not everything is lost in our education system. I am product of it. Modesty aside, I like to think I am an above average, intelligent person, and I owe it all to this system and its dedicated teachers. Without them, the system would surely crumble and die. So, why not help them take our children through a path of greatness? Our schools need fixing; the infrastructure fails.
Yes, Mr. President, this is but a little description of the mental and economical state of my Puerto Rico. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
I wish you would have the power to be someone else for a while. I wish you could be one of us, and live incognito here. Be part of our society. Walk a mile in our shoes. Watch as the people that are sworn to represent us make jokes about $400k dollar Bentleys, or steal and benefit from the money that could otherwise pay for the things we need. You would wonder why we elect and (handsomely) pay people to serve us, and watch in astonishment as they serve themselves. You would see how corrupt politicians and jokers get more airtime than the few ones who pass venerable laws. I am sure you would gawk with incredulity as some more of them make stupid laws that would only benefit their wallets, or laws that would not affect them as they are above the middle working class. You would get mad as you spend a few hours a day on a hellish traffic jam, both ways. You’d be afraid to go out to the movies because you might get hit by a stray bullet that someone fired from one car to another on the other side of the highway… and this has already happened here a few times. You’d shake your head in dismay as you try to pay your bills and buy groceries while stretching the dollar you earned, knowing that people on the government’s tit are riding on new cars, living for free. You would tirelessly work odd hours for someone who would pay little more than minimum wage and shun benefits in lieu of days off (yes, this happens). You’d grimace as your paycheck gets drained by everything else around you. Finally, you’d feel hopeless as you go back into the grind, every single morning, knowing that all of these will repeat itself over and over again, day after day, week after week, month after month. Then and ONLY then you will somewhat know what being a Puerto Rican Islander really is. To clarify, I am not trying to put down my brothers and sisters who have it rough in other States of the Nation, I am just pointing out what we live here, day after day. After all,they all left in search of something… ANYTHING… better. And they keep leaving in troves.
But not all in Puerto Rico is grim. We have quite a few beautiful beaches, great food and hospitable accommodations. Our people are warm and cheery when not accosted by the daily grind. Our sunup and sundown are bar none the most beautiful you’ve ever seen, and our music and spirit are unparalleled. We know how to party and we know how to wake up to do it again. For the most part, our people are kind to tourists, to the point where we strive to learn and butcher their languages rather than using our own. We eschew bad service to our tourists and try to always make the necessary accommodations to have them come back. So, Mr. President, enjoy your 5 hour stay. But, have in mind: if you truly want to gain favor with your Latino electorate over at the good old U.S. of A., you would have to first fix us, or MAKE US fix it. GOD knows the government and the people will not do it themselves: they are far too complacent with what they have. There is nothing to work for, when all we’ve known our whole lives is a complacent life thanks to the government.
Best wishes, and thank you for looking our way,
Hammed Silva Arroyo
P.S. I intend to send this letter to the different newspaper around the country, to see who has the gills to print it. I will probably have to shorten it…