Challenges for Puerto Ricans in NY

Controversy has emerged over the use of the Puerto Rican flag in corporate promotions. Some Puerto Ricans are upset because Coors, an official sponsor of the June 9 parade, is displaying the flag on its beer cans. For many, this placement is disrespectful and contradicts one of the themes of this year’s parade — health.

The battles over image, especially when it concerns the flag, have been a recurring issue over decades. There are also other critical challenges that deserve the same level of outrage and mobilization. Among them:

· Almost one-third of the city’s Puerto Ricans live below the poverty line, compared with less than one-fifth of all New Yorkers.

· Among disconnected youth between the ages of 16 to 24, Puerto Rican males have the highest rates of unemployment and lowest in educational enrollment.

· The number of Puerto Ricans in this city has dwindled. Issues that have led many boricuas to move out of state, like the rent squeeze, lack of affordable housing and displacement, must be tackled.

· There was a time when the city’s Puerto Rican nonprofits and grassroots groups led the charge for equality for the Latino community. But with budget deficits, the economic crisis and the politicization of their funding at the state and local levels, many of these organizations have closed their doors or are struggling for survival.

· A case in point about waning protest and advocacy is that of Noel Polanco, a Puerto Rican-Colombian youth who was shot and killed by police despite being unarmed. In the past, this type of case would have generated public demonstrations against excessive use of police force. However, there was no visible outrage or call for accountability.

Whether you agree with them or not, the promoters of these beverages have tapped cultural celebrations as ways to push their agendas and engage audiences. It’s the same tactic that needs to be employed to build momentum for long-term action around these challenges and issues, especially during an election year.