|Puerto Rican Legal Status is a Flag of Convenience
This week, the eyes of the world turn to Puerto Rico; its beaches, tropical rainforests and Spanish colonial restorations. Those eyes will grow wider as the lovely women from seventy-five countries present their talents and charm to judges of the 2002 Miss Universe Pageant, hosted by San Juan for the second straight year. Those remembering last years extravaganza will recall Ricky Martin wowing audiences after his flight from New York, singing our favorites and touting his Puerto Rican heritage. Observers straining to hear any reference to the islands relationship to the United States or to the American citizenship of its residents were disappointed. That night, Puerto Rico was another country of the world, its people a nation, its identity unique. The icing on the cake was that Puerto Ricos entry in the contest, Denise M. Quiñones, was crowned Miss Universe of 2001, besting Miss USA, who was a close runner-up.
That night, without doubt, every Puerto Rican, no matter how far removed from the island, took pride in the success of the bright and beautiful Ms. Quiñones. In the light of the next days dawn, however, their identity as "Puerto Ricans" might have been challenged by the islands organizational interests, depending upon what plans they had to assert that identity. Lately, some incomprehensible decisions have been issued by Puerto Rican sports bureaucrats, disqualifying some and anointing others seeking participation on island teams. ?
A recent piece of the Puerto Rico identity puzzle can be seen in the case of a seventh-round draft pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, Maurice Rodriguez Graulau. The strapping linebacker, who played college football at Fresno State in Californias San Jaoquin Valley and was an all-star football highschooler in nearby Visalia, California, was born in Puerto Rico and moved to the mainland as a youngster. His recent entry into the professional football ranks was headlined on the island, "A Puerto Rican Joins the Chiefs ("Con los Chiefs un puertoriqueño," El Nuevo Dia, 22 May 02). Throughout his stellar sports career, he also merited considerable ink in the Fresno Bee and Visalia Times-Delta as a hometown hero.
It is unlikely that Rodriquez, whose attention is now focused on learning the Chiefs playbook, is spending much time pondering who he "really is." But if the young defenseman ever seeks a second athletic career in Puerto Rico, it will be an important rumination. For example, if he decides to turn his talents to basketball and play for a team in the Superior Puerto Rican basketball league, his local press clippings wont help him qualify for a team. He will flunk the "Puerto Rican" test because he hasnt lived on the island for the past three years. After receiving his rejection letter, he can commiserate with Peter John Ramos, the seven-foot center for the Caguas Criollos who was recently sacked from the team for not being a "bona fide" Puerto Rican by the judgment of league officials. Ramos and Rodriquez have almost identical Puerto Rican pedigrees. Both have Puerto Rican parents, both were born on the island but raised in the continental United States. The same committee, however, did not find Jerome Mince unsuited to represent Puerto Rico on its Olympic basketball team. After he had become an accomplished player, the Bayamon Cowboys posited that, since he had been born at Remy Air Force Base to American military parents, the Puerto Rican sun had shown on him long enough to qualify him to play under its colors.
Perhaps the best bet for Rodriquez and Ramos would be to team-up as a Puerto Rican bobsled team entry for the 2006 Winter Olympic Games in Torina, Italy. Of course, after arrival in the Italian Alps, they might receive the urgent news that the Puerto Rico Olympic Commission had withdrawn their authorization to compete, as they did with Mike Gonzalez in Salt Lake in January. After qualifying him to represent Puerto Rico in the 1998 games, they found his civic DNA lacking four years later. He was instructed to pack his sled and return to the snows of Puerto Rico. Either Ramos or Rodriquez could easily pass the Puerto Rican identity test if they turned to boxing, assuming, of course, that they could reach the degree of proficiency of a John Ruiz. The Puerto Rico Boxing Commission recently picked the pugilist as "Puerto Rican Boxer of the Year," even though he was born in Boston and had no domicile on the island.
Forewarned of imminent expulsion from Puerto Ricos sheltering wing, the Ramos-Rodriguez team could seek the sponsorship of the U.S. Olympic Commission. According to that groups spokesperson, neither athlete is civically challenged; "If they are American citizens, regardless of where they live or how long they have lived there, they qualify to represent their country in the Olympic games," she told the Herald. She reminded the reporter that Puerto Ricans have played on U.S. Olympic teams in the past, notably Mary Jo Fernandez, the womans tennis champ.
But hey! Whos thinking about sports anyway this week in Puerto Rico? The worlds loveliest women have converged on San Juan, readying themselves for a global telecast to 125 countries on the evening of May 29th. Seventy-five beauty queens will take the stage that night, most all citizens of the countries that they represent. The United States, however, will enjoy a statistical advantage in judging for the winner of this years Miss Universe tiara. Four of its citizens will be under the spotlights that night. Miss USA, Shauntay Hinton, Virginia Gridley of the Northern Mariana Islands, Merlisa Rhonda George of the US Virgin Islands and Miss Puerto Rico, Isis Marie Casalduc all carry American passports, although they didnt need to use them as they passed through Luis Munoz Marin Airport on their way to the pageant. The reigning Miss Universe, Denise M. Quinoes, a Puerto Rican, will be on hand for a final wave and smile. She has been traveling the world over the past year to represent the pageant, collecting scores of entry stamps on her passport, its shiny blue cover embossed with the Great Seal of the United States.
Ironically, any one of these women could have entered the preliminary contests in any state of the United States, as have many Puerto Rican women done in the past. The Herald contacted "Miss USA" organizers in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois and California and all quoted the same entry requirements; a minimum of 18 years of age, US citizenship regardless of place of birth and residency in the state for at least six months, including those in a student capacity. Local organizers for the qualifying contests in Puerto Rico have not responded to requests for information as to entry requirements for the Miss Puerto Rico contest.
One thing is clear, however. Ramos, Rodriquez and Ruiz and every other Puerto Rican residing on the mainland had all better be on the voter registry in their US congressional districts. Otherwise, Governor Sila Calderons headhunters will soon track them down, their pens and voter registration forms at the ready. To her government, not only are they all authentic Puerto Ricans, but also they will be expected to carry its flag and her agenda into their polling places in November.