Puerto Rico is a great place to hold a party, or to host a conference, or to put on a show. Recently, with “Hamilton” showing in San Juan, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s fundraising organization was holding their annual Winter Retreat. Vox shared a memo outlining events of the retreat: a meeting with Governor Rossello, a Puerto Rico Recovery Roundtable, talks with local community leaders, a bipartisan sit-down with elected leaders, and receptions coinciding with meals.
About 30 members of Congress attended the retreat, which is an annual event. It isn’t always held in Puerto Rico. The decision to do so this year was based, according to organizers, on a desire to help support Puerto Rico (the event brings money to the venue where it’s held) and to draw attention to the fact that Puerto Rico still needs support. Committee Chairman Rep. Tony Cárdenas, from California, explained, “One of the reasons was to show that going to Puerto Rico means that you’re helping fellow Americans and you’re helping the American economy and in addition to that, the more important side than that is making sure that we came to see for ourselves what is the condition of Puerto Rico. How bad is it? And it’s bad.”
Presidential Candidate Julian Castro was also in Puerto Rico to speak at the Latino Victory Fund’s annual summit. Some legislators stayed for this event as well.
Discussions of these political events contained some strange overtones. News anchors talked about people “partying on the beach” and “enjoying the sun.” Commenters talked about “tropical vacations” and “Bikini Girls.”
No matter what political party you support, legislators attending a meeting in Puerto Rico shouldn’t be shamed for visiting the territory. Gorgeous beaches and abundant sunshine are natural resources, not signs of a frivolous attitude.
Puerto Rico isn’t a party venue. It’s a U.S. territory with more than 3.2 million U.S. citizens. Congress makes laws and decisions for Puerto Rico. Since Puerto Rico has no senators and just one non-voting member in the House, the Island is dependent on the legislators who represent states. Those senators and representatives will be the ones who vote on whether Puerto Rico will receive funds to help rebuild from the 2017 hurricanes. They will vote on whether the people of Puerto Rico receive equal treatment under Medicaid or eligibility for tax credits people living in the states enjoy. They will vote on whether Puerto Rico will become a state.
A teachable moment
It’s important that Congress become more aware of Puerto Rico.
“Nobody would get angry if 30 Congress members went to Kansas, or to Arkansas, or to Texas,” Henry R. Muñoz pointed out. And in fact President Trump headed to New Orleans, a city known for showing people a good time, for a Farm Bureau conference. The media did not accuse him of partying.
This is an opportunity for learning. Tell your legislators that Puerto Rico deserves equality.