The power of citizenship was on Carmen Yulín Cruz’s mind last week at Radcliffe, but with a caveat: that power has limits.
“Citizenship does not give you equality,” the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, said in the keynote address of “Unsettled Citizens,” at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on March 29. During the daylong conference, which examined shifting and sometimes competing ideas about citizenship in a time of global migration, Cruz made an impassioned plea for a bond beyond legal statehood.
“Equality has to be fought for,” she said. “It has to be nurtured. It has to be taken care of every day.”
Cruz, who in September 2017 gained national prominence with her criticism of the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Maria, questioned the nature of citizenship as a political institution, focusing on themes of humanity and belonging. Emphasizing moral over legal imperatives, Cruz called for a “global citizenship” and said, “We should be tearing down walls, not building them.”
In explaining her views, Cruz pointed to what she and others saw as the Trump administration’s slow and inadequate response to Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. When the Category 4 hurricane devastated the island, she said, many Puerto Ricans relied on the bonds of citizenship, looking to the federal government for aid. “Don’t worry, Mayor,” they told her. “They will come.”
Months later, as concerns over food, water, and electricity persisted, even her most trusting constituents began to lose faith, she said.
Counting the casualties from disruptions in healthcare and shelter, Cruz noted a total of 3,000 dead from Maria and its effects. Many of those fatalities could have been avoided with a faster, fuller response, said Cruz, who has blamed President Trump for the toll and repeated the charge in her keynote.
“Our lives did not matter to him,” she said. “Being a citizen was not enough.” (For his part, Trump has repeatedly lashed out at Cruz and other regional leaders, including in a series of tweets this week.)