Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dominicans in Puerto Rico

While thousands of Puerto Ricans have emigrated to the mainland U.S the past few years, the Dominican population in the island quite possibly remained the same or increased slightly during the same time period. The exact number of Dominicans living in Puerto Rico is not known, as many are undocumented immigrants. However, some have estimated the Dominican population of legal immigrants to be at 82,344, while some put it at 300,000. The Dominican Republic is only 80 miles East of Puerto Rico on the Mona Passage. Dominican immigrants, both legal and illegal, play a crucial role in the local economy. Dominicans constitute the largest foreign-born population in Puerto Rico.

In Puerto Rico, just like in the mainland U.S, most of the low-paying, labor-intensive work is performed by illegal immigrants. Many work at restaurants, construction, housekeeping, amongst others. On the other hand, there are also many Dominican-owned colmados (small convenience stores) and small cafeterias. Most of these small businesses are located in the larger cities, such as San Juan. Dominicans have also left a mark on the local culture. The proliferation of bachata, a music genre serves as an example. There is an annual Dominican Parade held in the capital city.

The wave of Dominican immigration to Puerto Rico began many decades ago, as many abandoned their homeland in search for a better future. Many undocumented Dominican immigrants use Puerto Rico as a stepping stone to enter into the U.S. Dominicans and Puerto Ricans get along for the most part. However, there have been incidents in which Dominicans claim to have been victims of police brutality and discrimination. For the most part, there is no deep sense of animosity towards Dominicans, and no talk of passing a law similar to that of Arizona's SB 1070. Perhaps, most Puerto Ricans realize the importance of the Dominican community as a labor force and its contributions to the local economy.

(The image above was obtained from

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To Do: Get Birth Certificate

In just nine days from today, on September 30th, all Puerto Rican birth certificates will be invalid if they were issued before July 1st, 2010. Last December, the Puerto Rican government decided to pass this law requiring all Puerto Ricans who were born on the island to obtain new birth certificates. The primary reason behind this decision is due to the fact that approximately 40% of fraudulent U.S passport applications involve the usage of a Puerto Rican birth certificate. The U.S federal government was said to have pressured the local government to annul the old birth certificates. Back in 2007, there were numerous thefts which occurred in several public schools throughout the island where a significant amount of birth certificates were stolen. Perhaps another startling fact is that an estimated 12,000 Puerto Ricans on the island have been victims of identity fraud.

Exacerbating the situation is the requirement of many local governmental agencies to have a birth certificate presented when applying for a driver's license or an electoral card. Many of the stolen birth certificates have been sold for thousands of dollars on the black market. As expected, thousands of people have shown up at their local demographic registrar's office to apply for a new birth certificate. Puerto Ricans who were born on the island, but live on the mainland or elsewhere, can apply for a new birth certificate online. There are two options, either through the official government Web site or through another service called VitalChek. In fact, government officials recommend most people to go online, instead of going in person to the demographic registrar's office. Although the new birth certificates are said to be harder to forge, perhaps a more effective method to combat identity fraud is to stop the requirement of submitting them (as well as social security numbers) as a form of identification.

Update (9/30/10): Authorities have decided to extend the deadline to Oct. 30th to allow people more time to get their new birth certificate.

(Image above was obtained from

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Summer of Milestones

This was a summer of evolving and growing, and many lessons learned. For the past few weeks, I've been walking around in absolute bliss. I can now run 13.1 miles in about two hours and 10 minutes. Never did I think this was humanly possible for me. Back in July, I had signed up to run a half-marathon and have been training quite hard for it ever since. As the run date approaches, I am overcome with this immense feeling of excitement and adrenaline. Running has always been something I enjoyed, but I never pushed myself beyond my level of comfort. I had done several 5K and 10K runs, but was always afraid to take it further. My attitude changed once I went back to practicing yoga, which is a crucial part of my training.

As human beings, we sometimes limit ourselves in the way we think about what we can and cannot do. This, in turn, inhibits us from going into unchartered territory. Fear is the root of the problem. Doing yoga helped me deal with this in many different ways. It has given me this sense of confidence and strength that I've never felt before. This is when I had an epiphany and decided to run a half-marathon. Throughout the past few months, I had my many "aha" moments. I fell on my back countless of times while working on doing a full headstand without the help of a wall. Then one day, just out of the blue, I was finally able to balance on my head! Furthermore, albeit against the wall, I can now also do forearm stands as well as handstands. I was practically screaming with joy as I was hanging upside down. Reaching such milestones have taught me a lot about myself and about life in general.

Both running and yoga have shown me the importance of dedication, discipline, and perseverance. It has also taught me not to be afraid of failure, and to let go of your fears or anything that is preventing you from moving forward with your life. This, I know, can be extremely difficult to do. I've also learned to appreciate what I have and how far I've come along. For me, this is the definition of happiness. We often focus on what we don't have, but how about taking a moment to be grateful for what we do have? During my training, I had my bad days, when I wish I could have gone a bit further with my running, or when I just couldn't get my body to twist far enough to get into a pose. Feeling frustrated with myself, but yet never did I give up.

The past few months have been incredible because my training has given me the strength and focus to reach new heights, and helped me overcome a very difficult setback. In the end, the point is to keep learning and growing as a human being, and become a better person. I will always look back at this summer with very fond memories, and with much gratitude to my teachers, family and friends for being so supportive.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Reality Check

The passing of Hurricane Earl this past Monday revealed just how weak the island's infrastructure is, not to mention how unprepared the government is in dealing with emergency situations. Although the island was not directly hit by Earl, it passed 150 miles Northeast of San Juan, it caused power outages at nearly 200,000 homes and over 30,000 are without running water. The government's decision to end the work day at noon, and public schools at 1PM, caused major traffic jams. Gov. Fortuno even issued an apology on the government's poor judgement. Exacerbating the situation was the outage of traffic lights located at some of the most heavily transited intersections of the San Juan metro area. To put it lightly, it was mayhem on Monday.

Beginning in the morning, the island experienced strong periods of rain and wind gusts of up to 135 mph. There were many fallen tree branches on my street as I headed to work the next day, on Tuesday morning. My family and I were fortunate enough not to have been severely affected by Earl though, we have both electricity and running water at our home. I did see an explosion of an electric post not very far from our house on Monday night. The entire street went dark shortly thereafter. We lost power for about five minutes. Unfortunately, three days after Earl, I still have friends and acquaintances who are living without electricity. Miguel Cordero, the director of Puerto Rico's power electric company (la Autoridad Energía Eléctrica), blames the power outages on fallen trees caused by the strong wind gusts. With all due respect to Mr. Cordero, I think he needs a reality check.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that the island's electric grid system is in desperate need of an upgrade. In fact, this is an investment that's long overdue. Anyone who has lived, or still lives in Puerto Rico will very likely have experienced power outages at home or come across the occasional traffic light without power. Such occurrences were not precipitated by fallen trees, but due to a very antiquated electric grid system. An estimated 90% of the island's power is distributed via above ground electric lines. Should Earl have directly hit the island, the consequences would have undoubtedly been a lot worse.

According to meteorologists, this hurricane season looks to be quite active. The island is already bracing for another possible hurricane, Gaston. September has historically been the peak of the hurricane season for Puerto Rico. Perhaps we can apply some of Earl's lessons in preparing for the next storm. For starters, let's not send everyone home at the same time!

(The images above were obtained from