In 1992, Nydia M. Velázquez, a native of Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, became the first Puerto Rican woman elected to the U.S. Congress, having gained the right to vote in presidential and congressional elections denied to her in Puerto Rico by moving to New York. In 2018, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Diasporican from New York and the youngest woman to serve in the U.S. Congress joined Velázquez. Both are part of the Puerto Rican diaspora that is the case study for Week 8’s focus on women’s electoral activism in colonial diasporic communities. The ability of these communities to shape election outcomes informs the video’s calls for gendered solidarity and the transregional framework of colonial diasporic women’s voting and campaigning.
Antonia Denis was a Baja Vega, Puerto Rico native who arrived in New York the same year that Congress made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens. The author describes Denis’s tireless efforts to register voters in Brooklyn’s expanding Puerto Rican community beginning in the 1920s.
Thomas examines how Puerto Rican New Yorkers mobilized for political recognition beyond equal rights during the 20th century. Despite the United States’ 1917 conferral of citizenship on Puerto Ricans, migrants who arrived from the island to New York—the United States’ first “immigrant-citizens”—and their descendants endured discrimination that defied the inclusive promise of citizenship in a liberal democracy. Thomas documents how multiple generations of Puerto Rican New Yorkers crafted a “diasporic citizenship” and political identity that guided their demands. Puerto Rican New Yorkers mobilized for rights such as bilingual education and ballots in Spanish, for instance, that acknowledged the distinctly colonial relationship that originated and perpetuated their marginalization in the continental United States and injustices in Puerto Rico.
This article explains the efforts to register Puerto Rican voters in 2018, and their importance as a voting bloc in the United States.
Representatives Velázquez and Ocasio-Cortez discuss their 2020 introduction of the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act into Congress. They emphasize that the bill would provide a pathway for Puerto Ricans to negotiate and vote upon a status solution before presenting that solution to Congress and thus end the long history of the U.S. Congress's unilaterally dictated policies to the people of Puerto Rico.
In this powerful speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, New York State Senator Olga Mendéz recognizes the historic moment when she, the first Puerto Rican elected to a state legislature, seconded the nomination of the first Black man for the Democratic presidential nomination. As she explains, Jesse Jackson represents a particular vision of the United States that recognizes the rights of all people, including her own community.
In this video, then Democratic congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez explains the second-class U.S. citizenship of Puerto Ricans, touching on Hurricane Maria and limits on federal voting rights on the island.