Abdiel Gonzalez was buying an engagement ring for his fiancee at a jewelry store in California. He showed his Puerto Rico drivers license as as identification, but the sales assistant refused to accept it.
Marivi Roman Torres was flying from Los Angeles to Puerto Rico, when the airline insisted that she would have to produce a passport for her toddler traveling with her and her husband on the domestic flight.
Humberto Marchand was denied the rental car he had already paid for in Louisiana when he showed his ID from Puerto Rico. Representatives of the car rental company demanded his passport and called security when he couldn’t provide it.
In each of these cases, the companies later apologized and promised to provide better employee education.
But these incidents — three in as many weeks — are not isolated incidents. Nor are they evidence of poor quality employees. The problem is more deeply rooted.
Ignorance about Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. The Island has been a U.S. possession since 1898. People born in Puerto Rico have been citizens of the United States since 1917. No passport is required to enter or leave Puerto Rico when traveling to or from a state.
And yet a national poll before Hurricane Maria in 1917 found that just about half of Americans knew that Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens.
When Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, many Americans were confused by FEMA’s involvement in the rescue efforts. News media rushed to explain that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.
It is likely that more people now realize that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, but clearly some Americans, including the staff at the jewelry store, the car rental agency, and the airport are still ignorant of this very basic fact.
How can this be?
Puerto Rico is not included
The history of Puerto Rico — even the basic fact of its cession to the U.S. by Spain in 1898 — is not taught in most stateside classrooms. It is not even included in most U.S. history textbooks. We should not be surprised that jewelers do not receive this information in their employee training.
Puerto Rico is not included in many maps of the United States. It is often excluded from statistics about the U.S.
Public education could make a difference. Until the facts are widely known, we will continue to see headlines showing the same confusion over Puerto Rico.