Today’s “Liberating Word” was written by Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church, which is Rev. Michael Piazza’s new church home. Each week, Rev. Dr. Lewis writes a letter of sorts to the Middle Church family, and Rev. Piazza thought sharing it with you would be an excellent way for you to get to know his friend and colleague, which he is anxious for you to do.
Around the globe, storms are raging, the earth is quaking, and God’s people need our love more than ever. I am fascinated at the slow response to Puerto Rico’s devastation at the hands of a storm named Maria. There are 3.4 million Americans in Puerto Rico, and they are desperate for help.
In February 1898, after centuries of Spanish colonial rule, Puerto Rico became an independent part of Spain, complete with voting rights and its own constitution. At war with Spain, American forces landed in Puerto Rico in July, and U.S. General Nelson Miles issued a manifesto promising to protect the life, liberty, and property of Puerto Ricans. The Spanish-American War ended one month later, but the Americans did not keep their promises. When Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris of 1898, the U.S. ignored the new, democratically-elected local parliament of Puerto Rico in favor of creating its own colonial system.
In 1901, a series of legal opinions known as the “Insular Cases” argued that Puerto Rico and other territories ceded by Spain were full of “alien races” who couldn’t understand “Anglo-Saxon principles.” The Constitution, therefore, did not apply to them, and Puerto Rico became an “unincorporated territory” with no path forward to statehood. Alien races!
Puerto Ricans became U.S. citizens in 1917 under the Jones-Shafroth Act, conveniently allowing the U.S. to deploy them as troops during World War I. They, however, could not vote for president or elect voting senators or representatives to the U.S. Congress, and they still can’t!
One of the hallmarks of Middle Church’s life of faith is our commitment to celebrating the unique particularity of every human being. This is why we’ll honor the unique contributions and rich heritage of Hispanic- and Latinx-Americans during National Hispanic and Latino Heritage Month in worship on October 8 and 15.
As we celebrate Hispanic/Latino Heritage Month, which begins each year on September 15, we will work assiduously to help our global family, including our sisters and brothers in Puerto Rico, recover from storms and earthquakes. Here is how. We also will continue to work to end the systemic racism that seeks to dishonor the voices and gifts of our Hispanic/Latinx family. America’s bright future depends on us all!