I'm Not Voting in This Election. I Can't. I'm Puerto Rican.

By: Gabriela Morales

Back in November 2008, when I was about eleven years old, my dad woke my siblings and me up in the middle of the night to watch as Obama was declared the president of the United States of America.  At the time, I knew this was a big deal, but I’ll admit that I really had no idea as to why it was a big deal. Can you really blame me? I mean, what is an eleven year-old supposed to know about the economy, foreign policy, or social issues? I only knew it was relevant because it fell into this cover-all category of things my parents talked bout called “politics.” For months leading up to that night, my parents had been talking and debating about the election and the candidates for presidency and local positions (such as Governor, representative, etc.), but now it was finally coming to an end (or so I hoped since nothing is more annoying to a child than all the serious ‘adult talk’ that surrounds politics).

By: Getty

My dad seemed particularly happy, so I decided to do what all eleven year-olds do: I asked questions. Specifically, I asked something along the lines of: ‘Did the person you voted for win?’

At this he replied by saying that he didn’t vote for him; not because he didn’t like him, but rather because Puerto Ricans are not allowed to vote in presidential elections. Naturally I replied to his statement with the question that’s hated the most by all parents: ‘Why?’

In response to this, my dad gave a rather lengthy, but simple lesson about the Puerto Rican status. He explained that we are a colony, and that while we may serve in the armed forces, travel to the U.S. without a passport, we’re not allowed to vote. That this person that just became president would be in charge of Puerto Rico, my home, without anyone on the island having been able to say whether they wanted him or not.

I didn’t know it at the time, but that moment was my first exposure to politics and would help mold most of my views of politics, Puerto Rico and the United States. I began to develop some of the same emotions I still hold today. I feel rage at the fact that the U.S. can do anything they want on the island without us having any say in it, confusion as to why this unfair system is still active, and disappointment at the fact that according to the U.S. government, I don’t have a voice. And in a way, it’s true.

The most visible example of Puerto Ricans’ lack of agency over their own lives came this past June, when President Obama singed the PROMESA bill (Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act) into law.  In short, it establishes a seven-person financial oversight board that will have nearly absolute power over the island’s economy. The people on this board will be selected by the president and remain active until the debt has been ‘taking care of’. This means that seven people that have never lived on the island (and with the exception of one, the rest will most likely not) will have the power to privatize and sell our natural resources, lower minimum wage for anyone who is twenty-five or younger and approving or vetoing fiscal projects. As a good friend of mine who would rather not be named put it: “This is the political equivalent of someone going: F*** you; pay me.”

The only way left for us to show our indignation is to protest through discussion, art and action. While this is a horrible transgression committed by the United States’ government against the Puerto Rican people, it is far from the first. For example, up until May of 2003, the U.S. used the populated municipality of Viequez as a practice ground for their military. For years la Isla Nena was being constantly bombarded, which resulted in the declining health of the locals and even death of civil guard, David Sanes. Another example would be during the 1950s, when, because of the Ley the Mordaza (Gag law), a Puerto Rican could face ten or more years in jail for owning a Puerto Rican flag.

Now, you may or may not be asking yourself  “What’s the point of writing all of this? It’s not like this will change anything.” In truth, I have two reasons. For me, it’s to remember. I find myself studying in a country that is not my own, and it’s quite tempting to just forget about all the bad stuff going on back home and just enjoy the moment. However, I must not allow myself to do that. I should always remember who I am, where I came from and what I’m fighting for. The second reason pertains to my readers, specifically any readers who have not and will not vote in this presidential election and to anyone in general who says that their vote doesn’t count. The 3.6 million people who live in Puerto Rico and can’t vote during these elections disagree with you. You may not like the two main party candidates but at least you have a say in who will be ruling over you for the next four to eight years…we don’t. No matter what happens in these elections, you should know that you had a choice. You should be aware that no matter who gets elected, you helped get them there, either by action or inaction. You need to realize that the vote you didn’t cast is not a right given freely to everyone, but rather a privilege that you are throwing away. So don’t complain about not having any say in the political and legal process during the next four years, because you did have a say but decided to remain quite while millions of Puerto Rican people have their voices taken away from them.

Gabriela Morales is a Sophomore at Christian Brothers University and Staff Writer at the Galleon

Posted by Josh Colfer at 11:48 AM

The Galleon is curated and managed by Christian Brothers University, a Memphis-based university founded in the Lasallian tradition (a sect within the Catholic faith). Part of our founding mission is to uphold respect for all persons-regardless of political, religious, or social beliefs. As an institution, we take no stand on political matters; to do so would undermine our commitment to intellectual inquiry and thoughtful response to events taking place in our World by members of the CBU community.

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