As a young lawyer, fresh out of law school, I have the passion and need to give back to
the community that I am a part of that is struggling now. I have never been prouder to be Puerto
Rican, and since going through college and graduate school, I now see the scourge white
privilege has long plagued all people of color in America, and that now plagues Puerto Ricans in
ways worse than we ever could have imagined. I feel obligated to tell our story as a Puerto Rican
and a Floridian resident since infancy.
As a young man growing up in Central Florida, I always knew that I wanted to make a
difference in my lifetime. I first strived to be a film director, then a politician, before I finally
decided I wanted to be a lawyer. It was not until I was in college that I realized how horrific the
stereotypes I—as a young Puerto Rican male—face. All throughout college, I was assumed to be
Cuban or white, and when I told people that I am in fact Puerto Rican, they stare in utter shock
and disbelief. One classmate of mine at the University of Central Florida once told me there was
no way I could be both a Puerto Rican and a college student with ambitions to enter the legal
profession. Another girl I knew at UCF told me that I “was doing better than 99% of other
Ricans.” This has always been painful for me to hear; so many people think so lowly of me all
because of the Puerto Rican blood flowing through my veins. I remember once when I was
eating lunch in my high school, a classmate asked me, “why do all Puerto Ricans drink Bacardi
all the time?” Our people are stereotyped as all a bunch of drunks. This girl, like many others,
seems to think that the one educated Puerto Rican speaks for all Puerto Ricans across the world.
All too often, Puerto Ricans like myself are thought of as “gangstas” and thugs, as lazy
and loud, and as drunks who want everything done for them.1 Female Puerto Ricans are not
immune from this either. They are seen as loud and aggressive.2 I learned this stereotype from a
classmate of mine in law school. These stereotypes are generic negative labels that only hurt us
as we reel from the effects of Hurricane Maria.3 In fact, 50,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to the
Sunshine State alone since the disaster struck.4 Fifty thousand Americans from a completely
destroyed island that largely does not have power are coming to Florida as refugees without
power, without clean running water, with their lives destroyed, and now being forced to embark
on an experience in America typically reserved for recent immigrants. The worse part of our
plight is, we are Americans!
Since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 20th, 3.4 million Puerto
Ricans—United States citizens—were left living in the Stone Age.5 A powerline failure forced a
shutdown of two powerplants: leaving nearly a million people in the longest blackout in
American history for a little longer.6 As of now, 12% of customers in Puerto Rico are still in a
blackout since September.7 Puerto Rico was left without electrical power because the electrical
lines were destroyed.8 When the power went out, so did the running water, leaving many on the
island to seek water in streams and rivers that—unknown to them—carry disease that could bring
an epidemic to the tropical island.9 President Trump’s response to this disaster has been
mediocre at best.10 It took Trump two weeks to come to the island to see the devastation for
himself.11 In fact, as Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, Trump spent his time tweeting about
Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling actions during the National Anthem12 and did not visit till
celebrities like Pitbull, Ricky Martin and Lin-Manuel Miranda sent aid to Puerto Rico and
attracted media attention to Puerto Rico’s plight.13
Then, Trump tweeted “jokes” about how Puerto Rico may get less aid because of how
much debt they are in or how it threw the nation’s budget “out of whack.”14 The national
embarrassment grew when Trump entered a twitter war with San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín after
she criticized the US government’s awful response to the disaster.15 Even the Army Corps of
Engineers’ top dog says he is unsatisfied that it could take till the end of March to get the power
back on for everybody.16. Trump also sent Whitefish Energy, a company based in Montana.17
The contract itself forbids the government from auditing the costs or profit elements of the
deal.18 Whitefish then billed Puerto Rico for sixteen-hour days with little documentation to
support that employees actually worked those hours.19
Whitefish also charged the Puerto Rican government up to $319 an hour for its
employees to who work for only $42 an hour, meaning Puerto Rico is getting ripped off with
charges way over market rates in the middle of a nation-wide disaster that has left the island with
almost nothing.20 Whitefish Energy is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of Trump’s
Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke.21 Secretary Zinke personally knows the CEO of Whitefish
and his son has worked for Whitefish as well.22 Whitefish Energy is a small company, only
having two employees when Hurricane Maria made landfall on September 20th.23
To make matters worse, thirty million FEMA meals meant to go to the people of Puerto
Rico were left sitting in a storage space in Atlanta for three months.24 Only fifty thousand of
them made it to Puerto Rico.25 In fact, Tribute Contracting, the company gaining the 156-
million-dollar contract to deliver food was a one-woman operation.26 FEMA selected Tribute
Contracting after vetting it among competitors, failing to acknowledge or realize that Tribute
Contracting’s owner, Tiffany Brown lost five previous contracts with the Government for failing
to deliver food.27 Before this revelation came out, Ms. Brown said that she subcontracted two
other caterers to make and deliver the food.28
One of the catering companies only had a total of eleven employees.29 I am happy that
Ms. Brown, a woman of color, received a contract like this. However, Tribute Contracting was a
terribly incompetent choice for a company to feed starving Americans. In Kissimmee the Puerto
Rican Federal Affairs Administration delayed their delivery of food to Puerto Rico because it
was infested with rats.30 Rats!
Florida is the top destination for Puerto Ricans in the wake of Maria, since many have
family already there. Florida schools have added 7,900 new students in one month from Puerto
Rico alone.31 Orange County Public Schools, the public-school entity for Orlando, has even gone
as far as enrolling kids at the Orlando airport, and hire teachers as they wait for their flight to
Orlando in San Juan.32 Many Puerto Ricans had to clear out their meager savings to buy $3,000
tickets to seek refuge in places like Orlando and Miami. Normally, round-trip tickets that time of
year cost $250.33.
In the next four years, another 750,000 Puerto Ricans are predicted to migrate to the
mainland United States, with many of them settling in the Sunshine State.34 Once these
American refugees get to the mainland, the next challenge is finding housing. Orlando lacks
enough affordable housing for most of these refugees, and countless resort to living out of their
cars, sleeping in the airport they arrived in or spending what little money they have on motels.35
Unlike FEMA’s response to Hurricane Katrina, there will be no FEMA trailers for those affected
by Hurricane Maria, meaning that Orlando, and much of Florida may see a growing problem
with homelessness.36 Tourist season is right around the corner, so those hotel rates will skyrocket
in the coming months.37
Next, Puerto Ricans will have to deal with the challenge of learning a new language.
Unlike Puerto Rico, English is the commonly used language in the United States, and they will
need to learn to pick up the language fast to make it in America.38 This will hit children the
hardest as they are mostly taught Spanish in their public schools back in Puerto Rico.39 Coming
to the mainland without being fluent in English will make it tough for them to make friends, get
a part-time job, do well on the SATs, and write college admissions essays.40 To make matters
worse, there are not enough bilingual teachers in Florida’s public schools to help them learn
properly, keep their grades up, go to college, and help them live a better life than their parents.41
Puerto Rico was in the middle of a terrible economic crisis before Maria, and since
Maria, it has only risen to catastrophic levels. Puerto Ricans moving to the mainland are quickly
finding that they need to find an immediate job to replenish their depleted savings. In Orlando,
there are plenty of jobs, but most of them are low-wage hospitality jobs.42 I remember when
growing up in the Orlando area how many of the people I knew worked for hotels, resorts,
restaurants, and gift shops for minimum wage. Some of them had families to feed, and barely
made ends meet. I worked at a McDonalds while in college, so I feel their pain of being
overworked for meager pay. Due to the low-paying hospitality hourly salary, many of them may
need food stamps to make ends meet as our fellow Americans begin anew in the Sunshine State.
Most Americans have never met a Puerto Rican, let alone even heard of Puerto Rico.43 Most
Americans are surprised that Puerto Ricans are United States citizens as they fail to realize that
we only became citizens in 1917 so the military could draft us to fight in World War One.44 I
have personally seen memes and graphics on Facebook that proudly call for the deportation of
“Porto Ricans” because we are not from here and are coming to America illegally.45
Consequently, we feel a lack of empathy that people in Texas and Florida take for granted.46 All
too often when the topic of aid to Puerto Rico comes up, the government groans with apathy and
answers back with how “costly” it will be or that we need to do things ourselves.47 We never
heard this kind of talk when Houston called for help, and both places hold United States citizens.
When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and the rest of Texas, America’s response
was swift and robust. Aid money, infrastructure and donations from the government and the
public majority flowed in like a steady stream to the affected areas. As Hurricane Irma bearded
down on Florida, fuel ships sailed under military escorts to the ports and the state provided
transportation to help those that could not evacuate themselves leave the most vulnerable areas.48
Hotels as far away as Georgia and Alabama were booked to the rim.49 When I evacuated, I drove
100 miles to find a gas station that still had gasoline available. I lost a week and a half of
earnings at my then-current job. At the time, I was part of the most epic evacuation of my life.
After the storm, the Navy sent a hospital ship to help the injured for those that could not evacuate.
When it was time for Puerto Rico to receive the much-needed generosity of the American
people and its establishment, it was met with the bitch and moan of the President. Crude jokes
were frequently made about our ongoing debt crisis while people went without clean water. A
twitter beef with the Mayor of San Juan manifested while millions of Americans were reeling
with the reality of living in the Stone Age for six months to a year before the power would
remotely come back on.50 Furthermore, tweets homed in on the actions of protester Colin
Kaepernick while many Puerto Ricans dipped into their life savings for a one-way trip to the US
to start a new life—from the bottom up—like so many immigrants that came before them.51
Many Americans see our plight for help as nothing more than a handout to some welfare
addicts.52 Not all Americans are as apathetic. My former roommate—a republican—was the first
friend of mine to ask about family in Puerto Rico, the family that is still unaccounted for and a
grandmother facing rolling blackouts.
Puerto Ricans coming to Florida will get no federal housing assistance. There will be no
trailers like there were in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.53 The lack of affordable housing,
combined with the low wage jobs awaiting us and the struggle to learn English to accommodate
will put the Puerto Rican refugee on the fast track to become the new poor minority. Even
though we have been citizens by statute for a century, we are seen as poor, criminal, unwanted
immigrants by many in the United States.54 Despite all the war veterans, like my father, we
produced for America, despite our 105 billion-dollar economic contribution55 to the United
States economy, this negative worldview continues to be pounded against us.
Furthermore, the Jones Act makes it harder and more expensive to send aid to Puerto
Rico and people and property out. Officially known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Act
requires ships sailing between two points in the United States, or its territories to be built, owned,
and operated by Americans.56 While this may seem like a good idea at first, it only makes the
relief effort costlier and time consuming. In Florida, Jacksonville is where most Jones Act
compliant ships bound for Puerto Rico depart.57 Shipping costs between Puerto Rico and New
York could cost $3,000 per single container.58 It would only cost $1,200 to send that same
container to nearby Jamaica or Dominican Republic.59 The shipping industry in America is
dying, few ships are made in America anymore, and the amount of Jones Act ships are now few
and far in-between.60 When pressured to extend a temporary suspension of the Jones Act in
favor of expediting relief efforts, Trump tweeted his concerns with the shipping industry over the
Puerto Rican people.61 By doing this, Trump shows he is more concerned with a few
corporations’ balance sheets then he does about the plight of 3.4 million American citizens.62
Both liberal and conservative circles called for the repeal of the Jones Act, yet no such thing has
Trump came to prominence with the rise of the Alt-Right, a far-right group that proclaims
white nationalism and promotes racist attitudes to people of color.64 The Alt-Right believe that
America is exclusively for white people, and that there is no place for people of color in their
America.65 Puerto Rico is a victim of white privilege when the response after Hurricane Maria
was lacking the more meaningful zeal and vigor of the responses to Irma and Harvey. There
were no navy escorts en-route to make sure there was plenty of gasoline in citizens’ tanks to flee,
and the hospital ship sits largely empty off Puerto Rico’s coast because there is no way to get the
injured onto them.66 There are no signs of a quick and robust recovery for Puerto Rico enjoyed
by Texas and Florida.67 All we had in compensation was to see Trump throw paper towels at
people in Puerto Rico.68 Even Brietbart, the Mecca of the Alt-Right movement, has urged Trump
to make the Puerto Rican recovery quick and robust, so that he will win Florida in the next
Would this kind of response happen in mainland America? I hope by now you have
answered with an unmistakable NO! Florida and Texas did not suffer Puerto Rico’s fate because
they are fellow Americans. Unfortunately, Puerto Ricans are not seen as Americans.70 The
response to Puerto Rico waned, like it did after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, a city
primarily of African Americans. I remember seeing images of people creating road blocks to
stop trucks so they could have something to eat. New Orleans was a victim of white privilege
and we feel your pain.
We Puerto Ricans are not only a people of color but are viewed as “vermin” foreigners
coming to freeload off the American welfare. President Trump openly encourages Americans to
view us and other people of color this way, mostly by action and words, such as when he hires
Alt-Right leaders to his cabinet, when he tweets videos depicting Muslims as stereotypical
savage terrorists and calls Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “murderers.”71 The response would
have been different had Florida lost its power for six months. It would have been different if
Texans had to drink water out of contaminated streams after Harvey. How would we feel if
people if children in the suburbs of Houston went to bed without food because FEMA awarded a
multi-million-dollar contract to a company with a history of incompetence? We would not
tolerate Trump if the United Nations condemned the recovery response in Houston, as it did for
Puerto Rico. We would not condone Floridians moving out of the state because they have no
power or running water—with only the cloths on their backs—to Canada for a new life.
White privilege means there is a hidden bias that all people of color go through every
day. This does not mean that all white people are part of the racist agenda, quite the contrary,
many white people are genuinely caring people. Some of my closest friends have been white. A
white classmate of mine from my law school told me, “of all the people at this school, I am
going to miss you the most.” When Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, many Americans,
our fellow countrymen, turned their noses up to the thought of giving meaningful aid. This was
not true for Texas, and this was not true for Florida. Still, some white Americans do care and
contributed to the various fundraisers to help with Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico’s situation is like that faced by Bangladesh in the 1970s. In 1970, Cyclone
Bhola made landfall in what is now Bangladesh.72 Back then it was part of Pakistan and the
Pakistanis oppressed the Bangladeshi people.73 When Cyclone Bhola hit, it was the final straw
for their independence movement.74 Bhola alone killed half a million people in Bangladesh.75 It
is the deadliest hurricane ever recorded to date.76 Pakistan’s response was mediocre and that
angered the Bangladeshi people.77 They later declared their independence and fought a brutal
war for it.78 While Maria killed fewer people than Bhola, countless Puerto Ricans are feeling the
same way. We feel that our contributions to American society go unnoticed. We feel that no one
cares for the hard-fought victories our veterans gave for America. We feel angry that even
though we are American citizens, we are treated as foreigners. We feel resentment that our
history and contributions to the civil rights movement go unnoticed. We have given everything
to America in the last 120 years, yet we have gotten nothing in return but bigotry and
domination. That is how the Puerto Rican is the victim of white privilege in the wake of
3 (Brinkmann, Contact Reporter)
4 (Brinkmann, How many Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida? State’s numbers questioned)
5 (U. Irfan)
6 (U. Irfan)
7 (U. Irfan)
13 (BET Staff)
19 (A. F. Irfan)
20 (A. F. Irfan)
31 (News Service of Florida)
32 (Puerto Rico Teachers Fleeing Hurricane Maria Arrived at Orlando’s Airport With Nothing. They Left With Jobs)
33 (BET Staff)
43 (Bianca DiJulio)
44 (Library of Congress)
45 (Bianca DiJulio)
46 (Bianca DiJulio)
55 (Trading Economics)
64 (Merriam Webster)
65 (Southern Poverty Law Center)
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Page 12 of 16
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II, Vann R. Newkirk. “The Puerto Rico Power Scandal Expands.” The Atlantic 3 November 2017. website.
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Page 13 of 16
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