By BETTY BASTIDAS
The Mission has always been known as an enclave of Mexicans and Central Americans, but nominate and confirm a Puerto Rican to the Supreme Court, and suddenly, Bayarenos, as residents from the island are known, seem to be everywhere.
Puerto Ricans are teachers and artists as well as leaders in the Mission spearheading the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts, El Centro del Pueblo, the Woman’s Building, and the Mission Neighborhood Health Center.
This Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m., the Puerto Rican Network along with Supervisor David Campos and others from the Mission District will be at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts to celebrate U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
“It is a source of incredible pride having someone that represents us, both as a Hispanic woman and a Puerto Rican,” said Eli Jordan, a mother and teacher originally from Puerto Rico who has been living in the Mission for more than 20 years.
“Having role models like Sotomayor are the ones that guide us as teachers,” she added.
Jordan left the island in 1978 to pursue her studies and is a third grade teacher at Leonard R. Flynn Elementary School. This year she is returning from a six month sabbatical in Puerto Rico.
Currently some 18,901 Puerto Ricans live in the Bay Area, according to the 2000 Census. Most of the 3.5 million Puerto Ricans in the United States live in New York and little has been been written about the Boricua population– the indigenous name for people born in the island of Puerto Rico–in San Francisco.
Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship.
“In the beginning of this century, Puerto Ricans left out of economic necessities which is a different motive for Puerto Ricans leaving the island today,” said Jennie Rodriguez, executive director of the Mission Cultural Center organizing the community event this Sunday.
Industrialization in the early 1900s fueled a working class Puerto Rican migration to NY, Chicago, and Hawaii.
Rodriguez came directly to San Francisco 31 years ago because she had friends here. She liked the diversity and tolerance in San Francisco. It also satisfied her interests in community work, art, and culture.
“I always see San Francisco as a tourist, like I never fully integrate but at the same time, I would not want to live in another place other than here,” she said.
Rodriguez has now been living more years in San Francisco than in her native land of Puerto Rico.
“The Puerto Ricans that leave now, come with a university degree to continue their studies or they come to a place because of their preferences—they tend to be more educated and return to the island more frequently,” she said.
Rodriguez and her partner have raised two children here, but take them back to the island to encourage a connection to their roots.
Dulce Baron grew up with Rodriguez’s children and is Eli Jordan’s daughter. At 24 years old, she has visited the island more than 30 times.
“Ever since I was eight months, my mother would take us to Puerto Rico the entire summers,” said Baron. In fact, her mother and Dulce moved back to Puerto Rico for a year during her freshman year of high school but with a mere $5 an hour in her mom’s earnings as a teacher in Puerto Rico, they could not remain and returned to San Francisco.
“My experience was great—Puerto Rico is my second home,” she said.
Sotomayor, born in the Bronx in1954, has also kept close ties with the island, visiting frequently to see relatives.
Although the United States took control of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War in 1898 and granted Puerto Ricans citizenship in 1917, even today those who live on the island, cannot vote in presidential elections and pay no federal income taxes.
Carlos Disdier only came to San Francisco five years ago. He is getting his doctorate in psychology at the California Institute of Integral Studies and works as a therapist at the Instituto Familiar de la Raza in the Mission.
For Disdier, Obama was the first presidential election he voted for since becoming a resident of California.
Even though the United States has controlled Puerto Rico for over a century, it’s status remains up in the air.
A bill currently in Congress would ask Puerto Ricans whether they would like to change their political status by offering three options: independence, independence with a special association with the United States (commonwealth) or statehood by becoming the 51st state.
“Of course, there is an interdependency with the United States,” said Rodriguez “but that does not mean that we have to give up our independence, our language, culture and identity.”