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Allentown Morning Call

Puerto Ricans More Americanized Than Some Allentonians Realize

by David Vaida

August 25, 2000
Copyright © 2000 Allentown Morning Call. All Rights Reserved.

On August 20, I returned to Allentown from Puerto Rico after a two- week vacation. On that same day, an article appeared in the Sunday Morning Call concerning an "assimilation debate" sparked by this year's Puerto Rican Day Parade in Allentown. I found this coincidence ironic, because I have witnessed with my own eyes the Americanization of Puerto Rico .

I lived on the Island of Enchantment for most of the first 18 years of my life, and have returned to visit every one of the next 27. Puerto Rico is a bilingual country, with English spoken everywhere, including remote locations in the central mountain region.

The current governor is pro- statehood and at least 45 percent of the population want a permanent union with the United States right now, notwithstanding the fact that Commonwealth status has provided Puerto Ricans the highest standard of living in Latin America. If forced to choose between statehood and independence, it is estimated that 80 percent would go for statehood .

American tourism is the single greatest source of income, even though mainland pharmaceutical companies and high-tech ventures have made substantial economic contributions. U.S. retailers, such as Sears, have seen their local stores break all previous sales records, with the Penneys in Plaza Las Americas, the best known mall in Puerto Rico , having the highest sales per square foot in the world.

There isn't one corner of Puerto Rico where McDonald's. Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, The Gap, Sears, Penneys, Citibank, Shearson Lehmann, and every other major corporate player in America hasn't made its presence felt.

The American takeover, however, does not end with consumer goods and financial services. Cable television, as well as satellite TV, is available to anyone who will pay for it. The major networks, along with CNN and the premium channels, are watched by a substantial portion of the population. Hollywood movies arrive one week after they open stateside. They are shown in English, occasionally with subtitles.

The San Juan Star, an English daily, is one of the three leading newspapers; WOSO, an English-only radio station, is a leader in that field; and rock-influenced Latin music is the rage.

Under these circumstances, talk of lack of "assimilation" by the Puerto Rican community is nothing but cover for more sinister feelings and motives. It is simply a fact that the overwhelming majority of the Latino community of the Lehigh Valley is a hard- working, law-abiding group that only asks for an occasional display of ethnic pride.

The whole point of a parade is to show symbols, colors and clothing that make the participants different. This difference, of course, is subsumed within the larger American culture and society during the rest of the year. To argue that the one day Puerto Rican colors are displayed shows lack of "assimilation" is, to put it mildly, ridiculous.

Finally, the minor disorderly conduct during the parade was dealt with by the police, whose job it is to maintain order. Whatever overtime accrued was paid, at least in part, by the very parade participants through the taxation of the property where they live.

To suggest that between 6,000 and 8,000 law abiding citizens cannot march and show their ethnic pride because a few over- exuberant youths may throw water balloons and squeal their tires is such an absurd position that it cannot mask what is really going on here.

The fear of Latinos making an ever-increasing percentage of the population, with political power not far behind, is at the root of the racist, knee-jerk reaction to the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

I will not belabor the obvious by pointing out that more Puerto Ricans on our streets means a change in the status quo. But to those who suggest that these same Puerto Ricansare not clean, or disrespect the flag, or are on welfare, or do not care about disturbing their neighbors, or criticize their look, speech, demeanor and attitude; or if these critics insinuate that they are not law-abiding or patriotic; I say that it has all been heard before in other times with other groups -- and used as an excuse to keep them down.

I trust that this time such a ploy will not work.

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