Allow me to vent my pain...
My family and I moved to Liberty County, GA shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated our hometown, Puerto Rico. Just like hundreds, if not thousands, Puerto Rican families. For two years, we have made this beautiful town our home and it's our goal to make our roots here.
We are a family of professionals. My husband has a BA in Psychology and I have a BA in Criminology and Criminal Investigation. We are bilingual. The kids are too. My daughter knew no English at all when we first arrived here. And now she's this girl who loves to talk with everybody. We don't discuss politics or religion with others, because we respect everyone's point of view, but want ours to be respected as well.
My husband works here from day one, and I started my website in Georgia. My kids go to school here and believe me it's been hard. Their grades are great because they are hardworking kids and we are always encouraging them to work hard, learn and study a little more.
Been well-received has been a mashup of mixed feelings. In its majority, we've been received cordially everywhere. We have met great people. We have met not so great people. Overall it has been the whole experience. Like anywhere else in the world.
Let's start with the recent events, then go a little back in time...
A few days ago, I made an appointment for a marriage license at the courthouse in Liberty County. They told me the requirements over the phone and I told them that I had it all, including my divorce papers from Puerto Rico. I double-checked online at the official website for the requirements, just in case, you know.
As a Puerto Rican, I know how stupid and slow bureaucracy can come to be. Pardon me if you feel offended for this, but I feel offended as well, so let's be each other's company for this. Just to make you lose your time, there's always a new document required that wasn't listed. If you haven't been to CESCO (That's the Puerto Rican DDS) you will never understand the frustration.
Why did I double-check? If you didn't know, I'm a Puerto Rican divorced pretty babe! (Sorry about that! Just adding some humor while venting out my rage!) So, my divorce papers are -indeed- in Spanish because my divorce was... (You guessed right!) in Puerto Rico. As an official state document, it is written up in Spanish.
Well, they didn't say anything about the documents' language or origin over the phone, despite her knowing -because I verbally expressed- those were from Puerto Rico. Their official website doesn't establish that the documents are required in English either. Or that you must get them translated to simplify their lives. Here's what the website requires, link included:
FINAL DIVORCE DECREE OR DEATH CERTIFICATE- If previously married and marriage was dissolved by divorce or death, then must provide a copy of the divorce decree or death certificate. https://www.libertycountyga.com/topic/index.php?topicid=216&structureid=50
On the morning of the appointment, we arrived early and handed the documents. The lady at the reception took the papers and looked at me with a face so disgusted... like if I smelled like poop. I felt crushed but didn't say a thing. (I'm not that bad looking...) I just tried to be polite, though her facial expression was appalling. My husband looked at me with a worried expression. I know he noticed troubles were coming our way. (I call him my husband because we've been living together for years. Yes, we're getting a marriage license... You got it right! We're officially tying the knot, if they don't ask me to translate another silly thing and pay hundreds of bucks for it...)
The receptionist notifies us she'll be delivering the documents to someone else and they will see us shortly. Then, she sat at her nice chair and attended another visitor. Seconds later, she calls me and tells me "the person in charge" -someone to whom she never talked or called or whatever... needs me to pay a translation service to put my legal, official and stamped divorce documents in English because they don't work with documents in Spanish.
She handed me a piece of paper with a 1-800 phone number to contact in order to do the translation. She dialed the number there, and a prerecorded message was the only answer. The receptionist said that there were a lot of those sites online, they MAY be able to help me. Then, she just left.
We called the given number several times just to get the same pre-recorded message. I checked the site online and their services varied, starting from $25 per page, but they must be contacted for a quote. As we are quickly planning our secret elopement -Not so secret anymore, I see- we contacted another translation site online. This place said it was US trusted and the translation of a small document could be delivered in less than 24 hours. Just to avoid any more delays, we paid $120.00 to translate 3 papers and 1 stamp. And the wait was for 5 days.
I know that by now you understand I'm implying discrimination against the Latino community. Well, yes. I am clearly saying it: RACIAL DISCRIMINATION and probably LINGUISTIC DISCRIMINATION. Because that's exactly what this is. But let's discuss this in a moment.
Currently, I rescheduled the appointment for the marriage license, hoping they don't require me to translate my testimony to an English that's more suited for them.
In 2017, a Puerto Rican man- named Kenneth Caban Gonzalez- was arrested for allegedly presenting false documents to the DDS office trying to get his Georgia driver's license. He filed a lawsuit, which after a long battle of 2.5 years, this February 2020 he won.
If you didn't know, let me illustrate you a little, as per my experience here. When you move from Puerto Rico to Georgia, you must go to the DDS to change your driver's license. When you arrive there, they'll tell you that your Puerto Rico license will be retained from the moment you start the process, which will take a month depending on their appointments. This act is illegal, in fact. You can drive using your current license for 30 days since you became a Georgia resident.
As if it wasn't enough, you have to pass the written test -for which you need an appointment- and then schedule a driving test -another appointment. If you're coming from other US states, they just issue a Georgia license after you show the required documents that validate your identity and residence.
Before Mr. Caban's lawsuit came to a resolution, many Puerto Ricans had to endure being interviewed with a very discriminatory quiz called "Puerto Rico interview guide" from the Diplomatic Security Service in which we were required to answer a series of questions, some of which didn't make sense at all. One of the questions is: Who's Ruth Fernandez? If you know the answer... Good. If you don't... You're doomed. Or: who's the actual governor of Puerto Rico? And their recorded answer is Pedro Rosello. In actual times, Wanda Vazquez is. So, again... doomed. And what about this one: What's the name of Caguas' beach? Hello, people! Caguas is not a coastal city, thus no beach. What are they talking about? Seriously!
Let's say I understand the fact that Puerto Ricans and also the rest of the states' residents moving to Georgia are required to take the written tests because the traffic laws are different from state to state. I get it. But it isn't that way. Is just Puerto Ricans who must endure being treated like dumbasses who don't know how to drive, just because we come from Puerto Rico.
But did this fellow Puerto Rican -Mr. Caban- really win? Probably the $100,000 that Georgia state had to pay him for damages can help him soothe the tragedy, but not the money in the world will give him his peace and freedom back. He was arrested and accused of handling false documentation to government agencies. He was kept in jail for three long days. Was charged with fraud and forgery felonies. He was humiliated and treated like a criminal just for coming from a US territory whose main language isn't English. And because some people at power positions dictate the Spanish language and the Puerto Ricans as criminals or inferiors.
As a result of this lawsuit, the DDS agreed to implement a series of changes to their archaic regulations. And all charges against Mr. Caban Gonzalez were dropped.
Savannah Now said: This influx of new residents, many of whom speak little or no English, has created tensions and misunderstandings for the service agency personnel tasked with helping them resettle here. -https://www.savannahnow.com/lavozlatinaonline/noticias/2018-01-04/some-puerto-rican-refugees-feel-unwelcome-hinesville
And why have Puerto Ricans created tensions and misunderstandings? Because we require equal treatment? Because we come to the US -where we have every right to be as US citizens- and the necessity of language diversification arises? In my humble opinion, tensions and misunderstandings appear as the US government and its representatives have no desire to respect, protect and give equalitarian treatment to each one of the US citizens.
In an interview, State Rep. Al Williams said that many local government workers seemingly don't understand that Puerto Ricans are also US citizens with the same rights and benefits as the rest of US citizens. But the racial profiling is a very persistent problem still present in certain areas.
He was right. Creating a profile to penalize people based on the language is a very nasty way of discrimination. Every form of discrimination is the ugliest thing. We cannot expect to raise a country that's so racially diverse as USA with discrimination as norm.
Just so you have an idea how hard it must be for the kids, I'll tell you the following. My son never talks about it, though I know it upset him a lot. The year we arrived here, 2018, my son -who's 15 now- had awesome grades. In his first quarter, he received an honor roll certificate. I was very proud of him! I still am! After that one time, never again he received anything for his good grades. He graduated with almost 4.00 and not even in the graduation ceremony he received a reward for it. On the sad side, a lot of students received their honor roll mentions and certificates. Even for attendance...
That year, he tried to enroll at the Dual Enrollment for 9th graders. At that time, 9th graders still participated in this. He received so much NO and CAN'T that it was impossible for him to start that year. Then, last year he approached his school counselor to make everything in his power to start Dual Enrollment. I did all the paperwork required. My son kept his grades very high. Summer came and still nothing. His counselor didn't even fill the school part of the paperwork. Constantly, we emailed her to know what was the procedure, why we were stuck, was I supposed to do something and I haven't, but clearly she wasn't happy to help us with it.
Classes started and no Dual Enrollment. It was enough. I couldn't bear to see my son deprived of something he had earned with his intellect and effort. Upset, I contacted the Superintendent of the Board of Education and was very detailed on what was happening, specifically the fact that my son is Latino and he'd been trying for over a year to make it work with his counselor without any progress.
A few hours later, everything was resolved as a misunderstanding and his College registration was ready, waiting for him.
If we haven't gone a step further, to the next in the chain of command, my son would be wasting his intelligence because someone else decided to make him less important.
Before leaving you, let me give you some facts:
Did you know:
Puerto Rico's main language is Spanish and the second language is English. We are fully bilingual there! And...
Puerto Ricans are US citizens and have been since 1917.
Did you know:
The United States has no official language.
Every year, amendments to the constitution are proposed in order to make English the official language of the United States. This discussion has been going on and on since the mid-1700s, but never turned into a legal formal proclamation. Some states had made English their official language but constitutionally is not a real thing.
Did you know:
How many Puerto Rican soldiers actually serve and have served for the US?
By 2017, the amount of Puerto Rican veterans exceeded 330,000. The active soldiers were rounded at 35,000 and another 10,000 in Reserve. And that was three years ago. We all have more than one relative who served or is still serving some branch of the US military.
Did you know:
Puerto Rican schools also teach JROTC to prepare young kids to serve the US military force.
Did you know:
Puerto Ricans are known as sick consumers: we're the fifth consumer of US products in the world. 85% of everything that is bought and consumed in Puerto Rico comes from the US. Have you seen an empty Walmart in Puerto Rico? Never.
Where goes all the money spent by Puerto Ricans in American stores in PR? To a bank in the USA, not in Puerto Rico.
Did you know:
Puerto Ricans are the second largest Latino community in the US. First is the Mexican community. Hispanics represent 18% of the US population. According to the 2019 census, almost 61 million Hispanics live in the US. Almost 854,000 Hispanics live in Georgia.
Did you know:
Under U.S. law, you must be provided with assistance in your language if you're looking for assistance in a government agency or organization funded by the U.S. government. US law establishes that language access services should include a free interpreter and free translation of important documents. An agency cannot force you to provide your own interpreter or ask you to pay for an interpreter or translation.
Did you know:
The vast majority of Hispanics are bilingual. Our language doesn't make us inferior, but empowered, resourceful and productive -Note how I don't say it makes us superior. I'm a proud sponsor of equality. As we all should.
Did you know:
After Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump visited the island and threw toilet paper and towel rolls to an island that cried for help. Clearly, an offense and a filthy mockery to a devastated island who historically has given the USA much more than what it receives. (This can be corroborated by tons of studies made by the best of Economists.)
Did you know:
A lot of US inland states citizens visit Puerto Rico to have outstanding vacations. Many of them know not even a word in Spanish language and yet expect to be treated homely and friendly. Which, let me tell you, they always receive it! As a Puerto Rican myself, and having worked on customer service for long years, I know firsthand, bilingual Boricuas are everywhere, ready to serve with care and excellence.
Did you know:
Never, a US citizen was required to pay a translating service to issue any documentation in Puerto Rico. At Puerto Rico, we aim to excel in service. Please, note that Puerto Rico's official language is Spanish, so it could make a lot of sense to force non-Spanish speakers to pay for translation of documents... Just saying!
Let's focus on the positive of this all. Our country has a lot to learn and a lot of ways to grow. Ending with all forms of discrimination is the first correct step. We cannot make a nation to be prosperous with the wrong laws and the wrong actions. Let's be proud of our constitution and put it to great use. The fourteen amendment guaranteed all citizens equal rights.
Let's make our nation big again by taking big steps towards a bright future!
*Editor's Note: This post was scheduled for publication on Saturday, October 10, 2020. At that time, the new appointment for the marriage license was completed. No document was required or questioned at that time. We were greeted by a different receptionist -who was very cordial and friendly. And the license was issued quickly. I wonder if that would have been the case if we weren't received the first time by someone who was clearly disrupted to provide services to a Puerto Rican.
Lots of love,