© 2020 by Gigi Fernandez. 

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"All my life, I have felt that Puerto Ricans are second class citizens.  Yes, we hold U.S. passports but, beyond that, our privileges in Puerto Rico  are much different than the vast majority of those that hold the same passport.  Bias has held a common theme throughout my life so as I look into the future, my hope is that I can turn my angst with bias into a passion with purpose. Where that passion takes me, is unknown...for now.  Until I figure it out, I will continue to be a vocal advocate for the rights of all my fellow Puerto Ricans!"

BLOG

BACKGROUND

Recently, Puerto Rico has been in the news after peaceful protesters demanded that the Governor resign. The protests came on the heels of allegations of significant corruption  within the Puerto Rican government and a leaked, 90-page document that uncovered inappropriate chat conversations between the Governor and other high ranking members of his administration.  Personally, I was appalled at the subject matter and disrespectful nature of those messages.  

While I was unable to join the protesters in Puerto Rico, I expressed my support while playing in an exhibition match at the International Hall of Fame that weekend. (My hat says "Rickey Renuncia"  or "Ricky Resign") 

 

After 10 days of peaceful protest, the Governor, Ricardo Rosello, finally resigned. 

More than any other time in my life, the events in Puerto Rico have definitely given me pause and caused me to ponder what I want to do with my future. 

 

All my life, I have felt that Puerto Ricans are second class citizens.  Yes, we hold US Passports but, beyond that, our privileges in Puerto Rico  are much different than the vast majority of those that hold the same passport.  

 

Bias has held a common theme throughout my life so as I look into the future, my hope is that I can turn my angst with bias into a passion with purpose.  

THE HISTORY

All Puerto Ricans received the option to become US Citizens under the Jones Act in 1917 and every person born in Puerto Rico after 1940 was automatically granted US citizenship.  

 

However, our US citizenship comes with specific conditions. Stay with me and I will get to the  point…

 

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory and, as such, we are not able to vote for the President and have no votes in Congress. Puerto Rican men and women have served proudly in the US Armed Forces since WWI but do not have the right to elect their Commander in Chief. To summarize the current status of Puerto Rico, we are "a separate and unequal territory that belongs to, but is not a part of, the United States". (you can read more here if this interests you)

THE PROBLEM

The problem that I have with Puerto Rico's current status is twofold:

  1. Separate but unequal screams of segregation and I thought, as a country, we were beyond that.  

  2. The "belongs to" reference. In essence, Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States and has been for 121 years.

So, what's my problem? Throughout my life, I have lived through a cultural identity crisis. What am I? Am I Puerto Rican or am I American?  Even though I proudly represented the United States in the Olympics and Fed Cup and won 2 Olympic Gold Medals and one US Fed Cup title, I am 100% Puerto Rican. As a Puerto Rican and US Citizen, I had the option to play for the US Olympic and Fed Cup teams. I choose to play for the US teams because, as a double specialist, one needs a good partner to be successful. 

MY ISSUE

My issue was that back in 1992 and 1996, when I medaled for the US, there were no Puerto Rican tour players to partner with. Thus, my choice to play with Mary Jo Fernandez, ironically born in the Dominican Republic, was my best and only choice.  We went on to wins Gold Medals in both '92 and '96...MJ as an US citizen through her parents immigration and me, as a quasi-American via Puerto Rico. Go figure!!

Was one of my proudest moments standing on the podium as the US National Anthem was played? Absolutely!  Would I have been equally or more proud if "La Borinquena" was played...100%. No doubt...ask people closest to me...I am one of the proudest Puerto RIcans you will ever meet.  In case anyone was wondering, I was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010 as the "first Puerto Rican ever to be inducted."  

Unfortunately, many in Puerto Rico consider me a  "traitor" for representing the US at those Olympics.  Without considering the fact that I was a doubles specialist without a country partner,  I have been persecuted, attacked, threatened, harassed, called "vende patria" (traitor), and left feeling virtually abandon by my own country for the past 27 years. 

I can't think of another Puerto Rican who has suffered more from this identity crisis. Many athletes have left for the US to follow their dreams - Roberto Clemente, Robbie Alomar, and Pudge Rodriguez.  Other public figures have left Puerto Rico to purse their passion - Academy Award winner, Jose Ferrer (my great uncle!) musician, Ricky Martin, just to name a few. ALL of them are revered in Puerto Rico based on their successes in the US.  Somehow, that makes the chip on my shoulder even more painful.

 

WE ALL NEED TO BELONG TO SOMETHING

In the end, no one should feel like they don't belong. While I love the United States and everything that it provides me and all it's citizens, I am Puerto Rican to the core and, as such, I feel a profound sadness for all my fellow Puerto Ricans.  

 

Why are Puerto Ricans treated differently than other US Citizens? 

 

Why is Puerto Rico not permitted to become a state?

 

Five referendums have been held allowing the people of Puerto Rico to vote for US statehood or independence. The most recent was on ballot in 2017. When either statehood or independence has been the option, statehood won every time.  The caveat is that, regardless of the vote, the US Congress holds the power to make Puerto RIco the 51st State.  

 

So, the question is.....why has Congress not acted on the will of the people of Puerto Rico?  

I don't know the true answer. I have been told and suspect it's all about politics, but I don't want to turn this into a political argument, so I will leave it at that.

 

What I do know is that I have a voice, and it's a loud one,😇 so I intend to find out. Not only find out but I will make it my next mission in life.

 

For now, my passion is  sharing my knowledge of doubles. But, sometime in the future, I intend on making sure the people of Puerto Rico have the opportunity to be granted the same rights as the citizens of the United States.  Whether those rights are granted via statehood or some other method, my view is that anything less is unacceptable.  

 

Where that passion takes me, is unknown...for now.  Until I figure it out, I will continue to be a vocal advocate for the rights of all my fellow Puerto Ricans!

Gigi

 

GET INVOLVED 

If you want to get involved, simply write your congressman or congresswoman and tell them that the US is beyond colonization and Puerto Rico should become a state. Click here to find your representative and send him or her a quick note.

This is what I wrote: (you may copy and paste or draft your own message) 

Please vote to make Puerto Rico the 51st state.

 

The United Sates of America should cease to colonize foreign territories. The people of Puerto Rico have voted 5 separate times in favor of statehood. The last was as recent as 2017.

 

Please grant statehood to the citizens of Puerto Rico.