Photo: Matt Slocum/AP
Photo: Matt Slocum/AP

"What Puerto Rico and our community need is not rolls of paper towels"

Former U.S. Ambassador to El Salvador Mari Carmen Aponte takes a stab at the 2020 presidential election.


Early in the 70’s I was a student at Temple University School of Law. At the time, Philadelphia lacked Puerto Rican lawyers and the community was marginalized. The disparity between the Puerto Rican community and the rest of the citizens was palpable. 

One of the first projects in which I participated while I was still a law student was identifying Puerto Rican children classified as handicapped because they could not speak English. The result was a series of cases where the federal courts ordered various states to provide bilingual education to these citizens recently arrived from Puerto Rico.

The truth about the situation of Puerto Ricans is that, regardless of whether we are born on the island or in the United States, we are born American citizens.

This has been a fact for more than 100 years, when in 1918 the federal Congress, through the Jones Act, granted citizenship to all Puerto Ricans residing on the island, as well as to their descendants. Since then, we have served in all wars in which the United States has participated. 

However, our community, even after a century, has remained bogged down and without good access to the middle class.

During the last three years our community has lost even more ground. We have lost very basic and fundamental benefits. 

For example, the present government pretends to undo and eliminate the governmental health insurance enacted by the Obama-Biden administration.

Better known as ACA, this insurance covers pre-existing health conditions. The elimination of ACA is being attacked by the Trump administration in a case pending in the Supreme Court of the United States. 

This would be a great disadvantage to our people. 

With the high incidence in our community of diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity, any complication from an illness could lead to the denial of insurance coverage. This could bring financial ruin to the affected persons. 

But this is not the only issue which has burdened us. 

We have seen how the present administration dismantles programs and policies that choke our community and reduce benefits to which all citizens are entitled.

To my Puerto Rican colleagues, I suggest that our political strength is in our vote. 

In the United States we have absolutely every right to register and vote. Each one of us has the power to make a great difference, particularly in a state like Pennsylvania, where the margins of victory in past elections have been small. Each and every single one of our votes is important. There are no exceptions to this rule.

In addition to demonstrating that we defend our community with our vote, there is another reason that makes this action of voting extremely important. We must and we have the obligation to send a signal to our government and other co-citizens that we are a community with a strong, solid, and powerful voice. 

We must send the clear and strong message that we are part of the citizenry, and that our leaders have to respond with policies that help our community of citizens that elected them.  

They have an obligation to help the Puerto Rican and the Hispanic community prosper and grow to reflect what we are: voters that contribute to the prosperity of the whole country. Elected leaders have that obligation to all citizens.

What Puerto Rico and our community need is not rolls of paper towels. 

What we need are responsible leaders who will insure better access to health, access to quality education services which prepare our community for the jobs in a 21st century economy, and access to ballot boxes so we can vote for the candidate which will best respond to our needs.

I never thought that almost 50 years after my Philadelphia student days, I would still find myself trying to convince Americans that Puerto Ricans are co-citizens. We need a president that understands that fundamental truth without having to remind him.  

For these reasons, in November, I will vote for Joe Biden.

Ambassador Mari Carmen Aponte (Retired) was the first Puerto Rican born woman confirmed by the Senate as Ambassador for the United States. She served in El Salvador (2010-2016). Subsequently, she served as Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the United States Department of State (2016-2017).  Ambassador Aponte was the first Puerto Rican woman admitted to the practice of law in Pennsylvania (1976).
  • puerto rico
  • 2020 elections
  • joe biden

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