Puerto Ricans face prejudice, treated as ‘second-class citizens’ in US
Despite being US citizens, discrimination is rampant in the recent cases of Puerto Ricans being denied services in the US.
In various US cities, Puerto Ricans were prevented from purchasing drinks at a grocery store, renting pre-paid cars, and boarding their flights.
Puerto Ricans have had US citizenship since 1917, but recently, all of them were mistaken for foreign visitors without valid identification and were denied services for which they had already paid. This illustrates the bias that residents of the island whose inhabitants predominantly speak Spanish - and Spanish speakers in general - experience in the US.
The problem started when many Americans failed to teach or failed to learn that the US took control of the island by invading it during the Spanish-American War in 1898, according to Blanca Anderson, a former college professor who lectured about Puerto Rican identity.
Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship during the First World War. Puerto Rico did not become a state but has remained a commonwealth.
These truths have either been lost or disregarded throughout time. According to Anderson, many Americans confuse Latinos with ancestry from south of the border with Spanish-speaking people from Puerto Rico. After retiring to North Carolina from her position as a professor at Loyola University in New Orleans, Anderson stated, "It’s ignorance – they don’t know their history," adding that "everyone who is Latino is looked at the same, even though we’re not."
Anderson recalls how she met a man while salsa dancing. He informed her that he was running for mayor. She then pledged to go cast her vote for him and later attempted to register to vote, but the clerk refused to let her since she recognized her as a local resident with Puerto Rican ancestry.
The fact that "we're a colony - period" finally became clear to Anderson, who eventually was able to cast a ballot in that election.
This is why it didn't surprise her to learn that the father of a student at the institution where she formerly taught ran into issues at the Hertz counter at the airport in New Orleans. He attempted to pick up a reservation in May while using a driver's license from Puerto Rico when the incident occurred.
Former federal probation officer Humberto Marchand had previously paid for the reservation, but the clerk would not accept it. He emphasized that because he was from abroad, he needed to provide a current passport.
When Marchand insisted repeatedly that he had "a valid ID," the clerk contacted a police officer, who ordered Marchand to leave and threatened to arrest him for causing a disturbance if he didn't.
The police department began a disciplinary investigation into the officer's tone and demeanor during the confrontation with Marchand, but the agency has not yet released the findings.
While others had similar experiences in other places, Marchand this week told The Guardian that almost everyone he knows who is from Puerto Rico and has visited the US mainland has experienced something similar. He claimed that he believes some US English speakers may mistake Puerto Ricans for foreigners when they see Spanish written on their driver's licenses and hear them occasionally speak with an accent and then launch an attack.
After Hurricane Maria struck the island in 2017, CBS News correspondent David Begnaud raised attention to Puerto Rico and the inadequate federal response it received. Begnaud claimed that since then, he has grown close to Puerto Ricans and frequently devotes his spare time to writing about important problems that concern them.
He reported about Marchand's experience in New Orleans on his Instagram and TikTok social media platforms after finding out about it. He applied the same principles to the other cases, which attracted the attention of various regional and national media sources, as well as his own employer.
Begnaud claimed he spent the time writing those reports because it was an opportunity to educate as many Americans as possible about why Puerto Ricans claimed they have received second-class treatment throughout the US for years.
“To me, this is emblematic of being treated like a second-class citizen,” Begnaud said. “And this is proof. This is proof.”
Days after making those comments, Begnaud noted that Shane Jewelry had issued an apology when a salesperson at one of their locations in Roseville, California, refused to sell an engagement ring to US military member Abdiel Gonzalez because he presented a Puerto Rican driver's license.
Gonzalez's military ID was likewise turned down by the clerk, and the business promised to provide the employee with more training.
"I felt discriminated and treated like I was a lie," Gonzalez told Begnaud.