Some Puerto Ricans feel like “second-class” citizens in wake of Maria

 In World
PHILADELPHIA — Xavier Totti moved to the mainland United States from his native Puerto Rico 43 years ago. He is still asked routinely if he is “legal,” and when he mails packages to relatives back home, he has to fill out an international form.

So, the 65-year-old anthropologist was not surprised by a Morning Consult-New York Times poll that showed more than half of Americans don’t realize that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory — and that its residents are U.S. citizens.

“By now, it’s sort of comical, but it makes me feel second-class, like you don’t belong,” said Totti, who lives in New York City.

Many Puerto Ricans share that view — a sentiment reinforced by what critics say has been a slow federal response to the humanitarian crisis that descended on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

“The response from Congress … has been almost as if Puerto Rico did not exist,” said Jose Cruz, a political scientist at the University at Albany-State University of New York. His mother and sister live on the island.

President Trump’s response “has been inadequate,” Cruz said. “He should have been there last week. Puerto Rico is not a priority.”

As if to bolster that assessment, Mr. Trump fired an early-morning Twitter barrage Saturday against San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who had accused the administration Friday of “killing us with the inefficiency” since the storm.

“Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help,” Mr. Trump wrote in a series of tweets from his golf club in New Jersey. “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

CBS News correspondent David Begnaud was in San Juan on Saturday. He said on CBSN that residents are talking about when they will get food or water and many of the residents don’t have the cellphone service to read what the president is tweeting.

Critics seized, in particular, on the president’s use of the word “them.” A photograph of the mayor, chest-deep in fetid water as she used a bullhorn to call out to victims, was all over social media — as were images of Mr. Trump hitting golf balls.

“She has been working 24/7,” tweeted “Hamilton” star and creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent. “You have been GOLFING. You’re going straight to hell.”

For her part, the mayor tweeted back photos of herself talking with rescue workers, wading through floodwaters and comforting an elderly woman.

“The goal is one: saving lives,” Mayor Cruz wrote. “This is the time to show our ‘true colors.’ We cannot be distracted by anything else.”

The president is slated to visit the island on Tuesday. On Friday, Mr. Trump pledged to help Puerto Ricans in the recovery, saying the island “is totally unable” to handle the catastrophe and adding that things are going “as you know, really well.”

“We’ve made tremendous strides,” Mr. Trump said. “We have to rebuild. If you look at it, the electric is gone, roads are gone, telecommunications is gone. The real question is what is going to happen later.”

Mr. Trump announced the visit after being criticized for going days without tweeting about the Puerto Rican crisis. When he did mention it on Monday, he referred to the island’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt,” its old electrical grid being “in terrible shape” and “billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”

Rep. Nydia Velazquez, a New York Democrat who was born in Puerto Rico, said earlier this week that she was “offended and insulted” by Mr. Trump’s tweet. She and other members drew parallels between the federal government’s responses to Maria and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005.

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