Our Opinion: Extending welcome to Puerto Ricans is right, patriotic

The scenes from Puerto Rico are nothing short of apocalyptic. Maria, that merciless whirlwind of misery, has left Puerto Ricans bereft of housing, power, clean water, food and all the other basics of civilized existence. The future viability of the entire island, in fact, is in doubt. In the short term, it faces the specter of disease and the breakdown of social order; in the long term, it could be years — if ever — before Puerto Rico, once touted by the U.S. government during the Cold War as "The Shining Star of the Caribbean," returns to some semblance of normality.

The plight of Puerto Rico and its people is one that should stir humanitarian instincts in the hardest of hearts. Added to their suffering is the trauma of feeling isolated, forgotten, abandoned and afraid as meaningful and timely relief fails to arrive.

Any foreign country in such dire circumstances would warrant all the resources a wealthy, powerful nation such as ours could bring to bear. It has surprised many Americans to learn, therefore, that Puerto Rico is not a foreign country. It is a part of the United States, and Puerto Ricans are, just like the rest of us, American citizens — as they have been since 1917.

Since then, they have contributed to our economy, served honorably in our armed forces, lived under the same Constitution and pledged allegiance to the same flag. Their heritage, traditions and language are distinct, but not separate; when it comes to the principles of freedom, democratic government and the individual rights we all hold dear, there is neither daylight nor expanse of water to be discerned between Puerto Ricans and their mainland American brethren.

Many Puerto Ricans, post-Maria, have come to realize that the island of their birth is no longer capable of sustaining even the very basics of their lives, and that their only option is escape to the mainland where family and friends may or may not await them. Berkshire County was settled and built by those who ventured here from beyond our shores and their descendants. Consequently, there is a long and honorable tradition of welcoming refugees into our community and assimilating them into our culture.

Just last week, Berkshirites learned that the pending arrival of Syrian and Iraqi refugees — along with all the positive benefits to our county their presence might have brought — would be thwarted by small-minded federal government policies (Eagle, September 21). There is no question that Puerto Ricans — a warm, industrious, entrepreneurial people, with a culture that proudly reflects the tantalizing influences of Spain, Africa and the native Indians of the Caribbean — would enrich a county already shaped and improved by diversity. What better way, therefore, to transform our disappointment into jubilation than to throw out our arms in welcome, not to immigrants in this case but to compatriots who have been cast, literally, to the wind?

As proud residents of the Berkshires and as Americans, we need to remember that human kindness is not a one-off. We must continue to demonstrate it every day, with every action, if it is to hold meaning. Now is the time for us to step forward and extend ourselves to our fellow Americans. That is what patriotism is all about.


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