Puerto Rico is making a change. From now on, driver’s licenses from Puerto Rico will specify, “Puerto Rico, USA.”
Licenses from states don’t identify the U.S. They just list the state. So why is Puerto Rico adding the country to their licenses? It is a response to several recent headline-grabbing examples of a long-term problem: many Americans on the mainland don’t realize that people born in Puerto Rico are Americans.
Not only have many Puerto Ricans had their licenses refused as identification, others have been asked to show a passport or visa as identification.
People born in Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens by birth, and have been since 1917. In 2017, a national poll found that barely half of Americans knew this.
Christina D. Ponsa-Kraus told the New York Times about a similar experience her mother had. “This sort of thing is just one among innumerable forms of discrimination, large and small, that Puerto Ricans have suffered because Puerto Rico is a colony,” she said.
Guam does it, too
Guam, which is an unincorporated territory like Puerto Rico, puts “USA” on drivers licenses, too. Puerto Rico, which is home to about 3.2 million U.S. citizens, and much closer to the mainland, might be excused for thinking such a step would not be necessary for the largest U.S. territory.
Will it help?
However, some observers question whether this action will help. People who refuse a Puerto Rico license as ID probably are immediately informed that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. Those who make the headlines are holding unswervingly to their ignorance in the face of assurances and explanations. Will the letters “USA” convince them otherwise?
Mario Segal wrote on Quora, “It will still not help- if anything they will say now it is a clear fake. You can’t fix racism that easily.”
The Guardian spoke with Humberto Marchand, who was not allowed to pick up a pre-paid rental car in Louisiana with his Puerto Rico driver’s license. “Language is a trigger,” Marchand told them. He felt that seeing Spanish words on his ID had caused the Hertz clerk to think he was a foreigner.
Puerto Rico’s Secretary of Transportation hopes that the change will improve the situation. “As is public knowledge, many Puerto Ricans have faced serious setbacks with both law enforcement officials and private companies when presenting their driver’s license as part of the different procedures they carry out,” said Eileen Vélez Vega. “This initiative has the purpose of minimizing the existing confusion and emphasizing that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States,”