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The Allentown Morning Call

"Seinfeld' Exemplifies Ignorance About Puerto Rico

By Rosalinda DeJesus Special to The Morning Call - Freelance

July 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

YORK, Pa. - Ask anyone if she has ever watched "Seinfeld" or if she knows who Jerry Seinfeld is, and chances are good that the answers are "yes." The former NBC comedy show continues to be an American icon, long after the sitcom was cancelled because reruns continue to be shown around the country.

Switch the subject to Puerto Rico and you'll have a harder time finding someone who knows anything substantive about its culture and its people. Even though the Caribbean island is a commonwealth of the United States and is a popular tourist destination, the average person still has a limited knowledge of this tropical island.

Most of the information we get about Puerto Rico comes from exposure to the images we see and the events we read about in the media. There are two problems with that. The mainstream media give us limited information about Puerto Rico. Secondly, these images are not always accurate.

Take, for instance, the "Seinfeld" episode in which the character Kramer stomped upon a Puerto Rican flag he had inadvertently set on fire. The episode originally was shown in 1998, the last season for the series. Fox TV will not rerun this episode, but other stations, including some in Pennsylvania, do. In fact, it ran again on Monday, much to the chagrin of many Latino leaders.

In the script, the incident takes place when Seinfeld and his friends try to get around the traffic jams caused by the Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City. Kramer throws a sparkler, which accidentally ignites the flag in the backseat of Jerry's car. He stomps on it to put out the flames in front of some Puerto Ricans. They chase Kramer and eventually Jerry's car is trashed. "It's like this every day in Puerto Rico," Kramer opines.

Instead of accepting this stereotypical depiction of Puerto Ricans, we should all use the "Seinfeld" episode as an impetus to learn something about a culture that is rich in history and continues to make many contributions to the United States.

Here are a few facts to consider:

The Puerto Rican flag was designed after the Cuban flag, with the colors inverted as a sign of solidarity with Cuba.

The red stripes on the flag stand for the blood that nourishes the three branches of government -- executive, legislative and judiciary.

In 1917, Puerto Ricans became citizens of the United States, but they cannot vote for president.

Puerto Rico has no representation in Congress except for a resident commissioner who is allowed to debate issues and has voting power only at the committee level. However, the commissioner does not have voting power on the House floor.

Since World War I, more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the U.S. armed forces.

Nearly 40,000 Puerto Ricans currently serve on active duty or reserve status in the U.S. armed forces.

Why is it so important to gain a better understanding of Puerto Rico and its people? Just look at the demographics in Allentown and across Pennsylvania. The Puerto Rican and Latino population is growing.

According to Census 2000, there are 228,557 Puerto Ricans in Pennsylvania. And, the Hispanic population in Berks County has more than doubled in the last decade.

So, let's not rely on network television, either in prime time or in reruns, to dictate our understanding of Puerto Ricans. Otherwise, the joke is on us, not on Jerry Seinfeld and his comedian friends.

Rosalinda DeJesus, a former reporter for The Hartford Courant, is a freelance writer in York, Pa.

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