This month, Puerto Ricans commemorated the centennial of the Jones Act, the first piece of legislation that gave Puerto Ricans a pathway to U.S. citizenship. Starting in 1917, people born in Puerto Rico, a territory of the U.S, were able to become American citizens through naturalization, and they did so for about 20 years.
“It’s a complicated identity struggle with our people,” said Adrián Viajero Roman, co-founder of Defend Puerto Rico.
Viajero Roman curated a show called “CitiCien: 100 Artists 100 Years of the Jones Act,” an exhibition that gathers the work Puerto Rican artists to shine a light on how this law impacted Puerto Rican history.
Latino USA intern Nicole Acevedo visited the show and brings us the voices of some of those artists.
Many Puerto Ricans attribute their feeling of not being ‘ni de aquí ni de allá’, meaning neither from here nor there, to the Jones Act.
The Jones Act was the law until 1940 when it was replaced with the Nationality Act of 1940, which gave birthright U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans. This change in the law applied retroactively to those born after 1899.
However, people born in the United States and Puerto Ricans born on the island don’t have equal U.S. citizenship.
U.S. citizens who are born or become naturalized citizens in the United States have what is known as a constitutional citizenship thanks to the 14th Amendment. On the other hand Puerto Ricans born on the island are granted a different type of U.S. citizenship known as statutory citizenship. According to a new journal from The Center of Puerto Rican Studies in New York, the difference between these two is that statutory citizenship is not a constitutional right, it’s a citizenship granted by an act of Congress.
However, if people born in Puerto Rico move to the U.S. and officially declare residency in one of the 50 states, their citizenship is constitutionally protected.
Some Puerto Ricans find this distinction is crucial.
“Puerto Ricans are less than second-class citizens,” Charles Venator-Santiago, said. “The Jones Act gave this idea to legally discriminate Puerto Ricans because it allowed the U.S. an undemocratic way to include/exclude Puerto Ricans.”
Venator-Santiago is a political science professor at the University of Connecticut who’s introducing a special study later this month for the Center of Puerto Rican Studies in New York.