Last week I mailed a form to request a copy of my birth certificate. Birth certificates have been in the news lately; my request for a birth certificate coincided with President Obama’s release of his long form birth certificate from the State of Hawaii.
I find myself in the curious position of being an American citizen but not having a valid copy of my birth certificate, because the one in my possession was declared null and void. This is because I happened to have been born in Puerto Rico. In 2009, the Puerto Rican legislature decreed that all birth certificates issued before July 1, 2010 must be re-issued. That’s right! According to Puerto Rico’s official government website, this was done to combat massive fraud. 40% of all passport fraud in the United States arises from the use of Puerto Rican birth certificates. This law is designed to limit this type of criminal activity.
Invalidating Puerto Rican birth certificates involves millions of people. There are about 3.5 million Puerto Ricans living in the island, the majority of which were born in Puerto Rico. There are about 4 million Puerto Ricans living in the States, some born here, others, like me, some born on the island. In fact, Puerto Ricans are the second highest number of Hispanics in this country.
If you were born after the year 1931, there is a central depository in San Juan that houses the records of all Puerto Rican birth certificates. I expect that there is also a record of my birth in Ponce, the second largest metropolitan area in Puerto Rico. The form asks you to note the hospital in which you were born and luckily my old birth certificate had that information. Otherwise I could have been in a bind. I know of one elderly woman who has not been able to get new a birth certificate because she was born before 1931!
When I was very young, like many Puerto Rican families, we moved to the United States. I was curious about Ponce. What was it like? When I was about 12 years old, my grandmother took me on the long cross-country trek. Back then there was no highway connecting the southern part of the island to San Juan where she lived. I will never forget going up and up interminably to get over the central mountain ranges. Now there is a highway (the “autopista”) that takes you across in several hours.
Ponce is famous for its colorful Fire Station-“Parque de Bombas” built in 1893. It is the iconic symbol of the city, and once you see it you will never forget it. It is painted in a colorful horizontal blocks of black and red and is an architectural marvel. Now it is a museum.
When I was a child, my mother would tell us about the Ferrér family. As an adult, I had the pleasure of meeting the patriarch, Luis A. Ferrér, and told him how much my mother admired him, although I did not have to because back then he was a living legend. A fellow Ponceño, he is responsible for the Museo de Arte (MAP) that has graced the city since 1959.
Ponce has many things to do and see. For example you can take in the Serrallés Castle that overlooks the city, visit the Lions Fountain in the square, or take in the Caribbean Sea. There are always the wonderful tropical fruits and vegetables to eat that are served in many of its fine restaurants. I advise all go girls to take a gander and visit Ponce. As Americans, you have most of the same rights and privileges as native-born Puerto Ricans, providing that you have a birth certificate that hasn’t been invalidated.