Ohio BMV policy leaves people from Puerto Rico with identity crisis

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- The summer of his 19th birthday, Alfredo Jose Pagan of Cleveland had plans.

He would sign up for the GED exam he has been studying for and apply for a job at a downtown hotel that was offering an interview.

Both steps require a photo ID, and last week Pagan walked 25 blocks to the nearest office of the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles to get one.

He left empty-handed and bewildered. His birth certificate, the one that says he was born in Utuado, Puerto Rico, is no longer good here, he was told.

The state BMV will not accept Puerto Rican birth certificates issued before Jan. 1 of this year.

"I was surprised," Pagan said. "I didn't know what the problem was. And they didn't explain it to me."

The West Side teen was blindsided by a new, little-known state policy that could affect thousands of Hispanics in Greater Cleveland and around the state. For months, the Bureau of Motor Vehicles has quietly refused to accept most Puerto Rican birth certificates, the primary document for people applying for a driver's license or for a state identification card.

State officials say they judge the document to be untrustworthy and note the prohibition is temporary.

By Sept. 30, all Puerto Ricans born on the island are expected to have newly issued birth certificates with enhanced security features. The Ohio BMV is ready to accept those documents, said spokeswoman Lindsay Komlanc.

Until then, people like Pagan face an identity crisis.

At a time when the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections is working to make it easier for Puerto Ricans to vote -- considering bilingual ballots at the urging of the U.S. Justice Department -- the state is making it harder for Puerto Ricans to identify themselves.

"People walk into a registrar's office, get told, 'No, we don't take those anymore,' and no one tells them what they are supposed to do," said David Dawson, the deputy director of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

Several Hispanics with experiences similar to Pagan's have contacted the Legal Aid Society in recent weeks. Dawson assumes there are hundreds more who have been turned away from license bureaus and don't know why or where to go.

They are caught up in a dramatic change in the way Puerto Ricans are being asked to identify themselves.

Traditionally, birth certificates are the primary form of ID on Puerto Rico. Most islanders possess several copies and carry them even on the mainland. But Puerto Rican birth certificates, which attest to U.S. citizenship, have become popular among many non-Puerto Ricans, too.

In an effort to stop identity fraud and a black market for Puerto Rican IDs, the commonwealth in December announced plans to nullify all of its birth certificates as of July 1.

The 4 million residents of Puerto Rico, plus the 1.3 million who live on the mainland -- including about 65,000 in Greater Cleveland -- were told to apply for the new, more secure documents that the commonwealth began to issue after Jan. 1.

The deadline for applying was extended to Sept. 30, and the old birth certificates are valid until then -- at least in most places.

The Ohio BMV did not agree to go along with the extension.

"From our perspective, we have a government that comes out and publicly says, 'We do not believe our document has credibility,' " Komlanc said. "We have to take a very hard look at that."

The BMV initially decided not to accept any Puerto Rican birth certificates, she said. It softened that internal policy April 8, when it decided to accept birth certificates issued after Jan. 1.

"We do not take this lightly," Komlanc said.

She said Deputy Registrar License Agencies were notified to try to help Puerto Rican customers by alerting them to other records that, in combination, can confirm age and address and might get them a photo ID. The license bureaus will accept Social Security cards, passports, utility bills and school records, Komlanc said.

Judging by Pagan's experience, that word has not spread through the ranks.

The soft-spoken teen, who aspires to become a mechanic, said he was simply told his birth certificate was unacceptable. He came home and told his mother and they visited another license bureau, where he was told to come back with a new birth certificate in October.

"I want to get a job, so I can help my mom with bills in the house," he said. "They said I have to wait."

Author: Robert L. Smith
Source: The Plain Dealer


Taíno People Featured at United Nations Indigenous Day

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses UN Headquarters' event in observance of the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. At right is Roberto Múkaro Agueibana Borrero, Master of Ceremonies for the event.
(UN Photo/Evan Schneider)

UNITED NATIONS (UCTP Taíno News) - The United Nations celebrated the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples on August 9, reaffirming indigenous rights and presenting several short films produced by indigenous filmmakers. Caribbean Indigenous Peoples, the Taíno in particular, were a featured part of the event commemorated at UN Headquarters.

The program was called to order with the sounding of the guamo (conch shell horn) by Roberto Múkaro Agueibana Borrero (Taíno) who served as the program’s Master of Ceremonies.

A welcoming song by Native American singer Kevin Tarrant and opening statements by UN dignitaries including UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon were presented. The participation of the UN Secretary-General highlighted the event’s high-level profile.

Four short films were presented during the event including "Taíno Indians: Counted out of Existence" by Alex Zacarias (Taíno). Zacarias is an Emmy-award winning documentary film maker whose family comes from Bieke (Vieques). His film deals with the Taíno People's struggle for recognition in Borikén (Puerto Rico).

“Film is a great way of communicating people's stories” stated Zacarias.

Sylvia Kaonamahakuio Marrero, a Borikén Taíno who attended the program agreed.

“It was an honor to be part of this important event and share with others; not only our Taíno people but also with other Indigenous Peoples” said Marrero. “The program was very educational.”

UCTPTN 08.10.2010


UN spotlights film as a window into indigenous lives

United Nations - On the frozen Arctic, a hunter in search of seals watches in horror as one of his tribesmen murders another. Then the killer begs him to forget what he saw and help dispose of the body. Andrew Okpeaha MacLean’s short film, the first ever made in the Inupiaq language, asks what constitutes justice in an isolated community where everyone needs each other just to survive.

The 2008 prize-winning film Sikumi (On The Ice) offers an insight into a culture and a people largely unknown to the rest of the world, and it is also one of four films screened today in New York as the United Nations celebrates the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

Indigenous filmmaking is the theme of this year’s Day and Mr. McLean hopes that films such as his own provide a chance for audiences worldwide to understand a bit more about peoples who find themselves frequently marginalized, dispossessed of their lands and impoverished.

“Online, in one day, half a million people saw the film,” he tells the UN News Centre. “And of those half a million people, maybe 99.9 per cent have never met an Inupiaq person… They didn’t get some deep education into what the culture is, but they got something. They got a taste. They got to hear the language they got to see the environment. They got to see a piece of what life up there is like.”

Sonia Smallacombe, an officer at the Secretariat of the UN’s Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, stresses that indigenous filmmaking offers not only an opportunity for audiences to learn about communities they never previously knew, but also for indigenous peoples to “get their voices out there into the public arena.”

By doing so, she explains, they can help countervail the often overly simplified portrayal of indigenous people in mainstream films that is used to “develop [detrimental] government policies on indigenous people.”

Mr. MacLean agrees. “I think that’s definitely accurate… It’s so amazing that film can do that for people and I think that it is a window that kind of goes both ways.”

The master of ceremonies at today’s celebrations in New York, which were attended by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was Roberto Múkaro Borrero, the Chairperson of the NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Committee on the International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

A former president of the United Confederation of the Taino People, who are based in Puerto Rico, he says that indigenous “film is really important because it allows us to transmit a story that few people have heard.”

Indigenous filmmakers say that while not all films about indigenous peoples made by outsiders are shallow, even those that are complex tend lack the type of accuracy that only indigenous people themselves can provide.

“I think it’s possible for outsiders to have a complex viewpoint and be an observer with a kind of integrity…but I don’t think it’s possible for an outsider to write something inside. I think it’s only so far that you can go unless you grew up within,” says Mr. MacLean.

“Historically, I think there are a lot of great films that have been done by people coming from outside of [indigenous] communities that have helped to raise a lot of awareness. But there is just another way of looking at things and to get at that, to get at the heart of community, these stories have to come from the communities themselves,” says Mr. Borrero.

Like the Taino people, the Inupiat also place a strong emphasis on community. Because “the landscape [in northern Alaska] is so harsh, the lifestyle is so harsh, people had to rely on each other to a pretty amazing degree,” says Mr. MacLean. “It may be that a hunter is unsuccessful for a couple weeks, and if his family is only relying on him, they’re basically going to starve. But the fact is that they can survive that because his neighbour went out and got himself a seal, so they don’t go hungry.”

However, Mr. MacLean worries that the Inupiat’s strong communal ties are being threatened by an “assault from mainstream culture.”

“We have Western culture – this juggernaut that’s just piped into our homes over TV and the Internet, this onslaught that fills our brain and our lives. I think it’s important that it become a two-way thing. I think instead of us just absorbing the culture of the mainstream, it’s important that we start to project our own culture out as well,” Mr. MacLean says.

It’s precisely that dynamic, the tendency of a dominant “mainstream” culture to absorb indigenous culture, that makes the right to self-determination so important, says Mr. Borrero. “When other people are allowed to determine your identity, to determine your history, you lose your rights. You lose that part of your selves that has been around even before some of these governments were formed," he says.

Article 3 of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that “indigenous peoples have the right to self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.”

The UN is intrinsic to protecting the rights of indigenous peoples, says Mr. Borrero.

“I think UN plays a critical role because it's an opportunity for indigenous people, like the Taino, to bring their story to the international forum. Oftentimes, local and state governments are unresponsive, and communities have no choice but to go outside those realms to try to seek a redress and seek assistance for problems.”

Source: UN News Centre


Indigenous filmmaking to be celebrated on International Day

United Nations (UCTP Taino News) - The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People will be commemorated at United Nations Headquarters and around the world on Monday, 9 August 2010. The observance will focus on indigenous filmmaking, celebrating the contributions of indigenous filmmakers to promoting greater understanding of their communities, cultures and history and the challenges they face today.

In his message for the Day, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon states the work of indigenous filmmakers “connects us to belief systems and philosophies; it captures both the daily life and the spirit of indigenous communities.”

The UN Headquarters event is organized by the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and is presented in collaboration with the NGO Committee on the UN International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Roberto Mukaro Agueibana Borrero (Taíno), will serve as Master of Ceremonies and opening remarks by the Secretary-General and other UN and indigenous representatives will precede the screening of four short films by indigenous filmmakers.

Following the film screenings, a discussion with three indigenous filmmakers - Mr. Per-Josef Idivuoma (Sámi), Mr. Alex Zacarias (Taíno), and Mr. Andrew Okpeaha Maclean (Inupiaq) - will be moderated by Reaghan Tarbell (Mohawk), from the National Museum of the American Indian.

UCTPTN 08.04.2010


Lolita Lebrón Dies

San Juan- The Nationalist heroine, Lolita Lebrón, who was jailed a quarter century in the United States for leading a commando attack on the Congress, died at 11:05 am today.

The 89 year old Puerto Rican nationalist leader was in a hospital in San Juan for a few weeks due to cardio respiratory complications she could not overcome, sources said.

"We were very anxious about the clinical picture presented in the last few hours and certainly expected this sad and painful end at any time," International News Service said a source close to the family, who declined to be identified.

Lebrón was active in the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico until her last breath, as relatives explained that only the deterioration of her health prevented her from being present in the latest protests in the country.

She also regretted not being able to be in the welcoming last Tuesday of former Puerto Rican political prisoner Carlos Alberto Torres, as she was already very poor health. Torres spent 30 years in prison in the U.S. for "seditious conspiracy" related to the struggle for independence as a suspected member of the Armed Forces of National Liberation (FALN).

Lebrón led an integrated command team in 1954 that included Rafael Cancel Miranda, Irving Flores and Andrés Figueroa Cordero, who remained imprisoned for 25 years before being pardoned in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter in the wake of an intense international campaign.

The action sought "to denounce to the world the farce of the Commonwealth," a system of government that had been founded in 1952 to remove Puerto Rico from the list of colonies.

On one occasion, nationalist leader stated that the attack on the U.S. Congress did not intend to cause the death of any congressman and, on the contrary, members of the command intended to blow themselves up because they thought they would be killed there.

Source: El Nuevo Día
Translated from Spanish by NiLP