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Presidential Classroom

Remarks by

Senator Kenneth D. McClintock

Puerto Rico Senate Minority Leader

Washington DC

February 21, 2003

American Citizens From Puerto Rico Remain Segregated,Remain Discriminated, Remain Disenfranchised

February 21, 2003
Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved. 

Thirty years ago this month, I attended a dinner such as this one to celebrate the end of the most productive, most enjoyable week of my life, my week at Presidential Classroom.

Twenty years ago, I had begun my career in public service, as a legislative assistant in my state legislature, inspired in part by my week at Presidential Classroom.

Ten years ago, as a newly elected member of my state Senate, I created a locally-funded Congressional Internship program that has allowed over 300 college students from Puerto Rico, many of them Presidential Classroom alumni, to spend, not a week, but a full semester in our Nation's Capital, working in the office of a member of Congress or the United States Senate.

Thirty years ago, as my fellow students at Presidential Classroom scrambled to visit and get their photograph taken with their Congressman and their two Senators, I felt like an outcast. Even though I was two years away from the draft, two years away from possibly putting my life on the line in Vietnam, I had no voting Congressmen or United States Senators to visit.

When I looked through the fence at the White House, I could not say that the guy living there was entirely my President. Yes, we were fellow Americans, but I could not participate in his election, I did not totally feel a sense of belonging.

Tonight, several of your fellow students, fellow American citizens, prepare to return to Puerto Rico.

Unlike you, they will not vote in the 2004 presidential election. Unlike you, they are not fully represented in Congress. Unlike you they don't have full access to everything our nation has to offer.

Many Puerto Ricans don't feel uncomfortable about that. Most Puerto Ricans do. Almost half a century after the United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation could not stand, several of your fellow students, fellow American citizens from Puerto Rico, remain segregated, remain discriminated, remain disenfranchised.

After watching a Dell Dude ad on TV, they go into and can't have a computer shipped to Puerto Rico because they only sell in the US. They try to buy a plane ticket with their bank-issued credit card and the purchase is denied because the airline does not accept foreign issue credit cards.

Although we fill out the U.S. Census forms every ten years, the Census Bureau excludes 3.9 million Americans from the national totals simply because they reside in Puerto Rico. To add insult to injury, they recently proclaimed that our nation's largest minority is now the Hispanic population, allegedly 37 million strong, once again excluding us, as if we were Norwegians rather than Hispanics!

The American flag may have flown over us for 104 years, we may be American citizens since 1917, we have more men and women mobilized to fight for our Nation in Afghanistan and Iraq, but we continue to be "foreign in a domestic sense" for major corporations such as, for major federal agencies such as the Census Bureau and for an American people that doesn't quite know the difference between Puerto Rico and Costa Rica.

After the week that ends tonight, some of you will commit your life to public service. You will discover that you can do greater good from the public sector. You will, through appointment or election, become the future conscience of our nation.

When you do, do not forget this magical and snowy week in Washington, DC. Do not forget Presidential Classroom, and do not forget those who lived and learned among you, who may have the good luck of flying down to San Juan and 84 degree weather tomorrow but who go back to the political limbo our nation has kept them in for too long.

If you are chosen to be the conscience of our nation, don't allow inequality to last much more. Ask us your fellow Americans in Puerto Rico if we want to draw closer or further away. If we choose to move farther away, lend us a helping hand and set us on the way to separate nationhood.

But if we choose to draw closer open your arms to us, welcome us into your family and admit us into the Union. Add another star to the flag, as you did for Hawaii, for Alaska, for New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arizona.

Add our star as a symbol of the constant renewal of a nation that truly is the land of the free, of all the free Americans that live wherever that flag flies, and the home of the brave, of all the brave who are tonight serving our nation far away from its shores, whether they have or not a vote in Congress, and whether or not they elect their Commander in Chief.

Thank you.

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