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Latinx Files: Will Puerto Rico stop being for Puerto Ricans soon?

Are Puerto Ricans being pushed out?
(Martina Ibáñez-Baldor / Los Angeles Times; Photos provided by Bianca Graulau
)

Brenda Velázquez hoped to spend the rest of her days living in her two-bedroom apartment in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico, a quiet town roughly 65 miles west of San Juan that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean. On days when the power would go out, a frequent occurrence on the island, she’d sit on her bedroom balcony and pass the time.

But those plans were dashed in November when she found out her building, the San José Hills Apartments, had been bought by another tenant, Giovanni Feroce, who wanted to kick everyone out by the end of the year. His plan was to convert the structure into a hotel or into Airbnb rentals.

A former Rhode Island resident and failed gubernatorial candidate, Feroce moved to Puerto Rico in 2019 to take advantage of Act 60, tax breaks implemented by the local government that incentivize foreigners to move to the island by offering zero taxes on passive income and capital gains.

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These incentives are not available to Puerto Rican residents, and it’s resulting in the likes of Logan Paul, crypto bros and tax dodgers like Feroce (he owes more than $1 million in back taxes to Rhode Island) moving there.

It’s also displacing actual Puerto Ricans.

“They’re pushing us out,” Yanira Ocasio, another San José Hills resident, told independent journalist Bianca Graulau, who broke the story of what’s happening in Quebradillas on her YouTube channel in a 15-minute video.

“They’re pushing us out of our place. When we open our eyes we won’t have an island and we will be Puerto Rico without Puerto Ricans.”

I’d like to tell you that this story has a happy ending, but it doesn’t. As Graulau noted in her video and in a recent interview with Latino Rebels Radio, Feroce has let some of the San José Hills residents stay until March but he’s still planning on evicting them.

But if pressed to find a silver lining in all this, I’d point to the fact that this story was reported on in the first place.

A graduate of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Journalism, Graulau worked in broadcast news at the local and national level, in English and in Spanish, before moving back to Puerto Rico and going independent. In November 2019, she launched her YouTube channel with a video on how rising sea levels are swallowing up the island’s beaches. That video has been viewed more than 1.4 million times, and Graulau has since accrued hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok (she’s got 372,000 followers, more than double the 170,000 people who follow the L.A. Times TikTok account), Instagram , and YouTube.

Graulau has established herself as a reliable source of news for Puerto Ricans. So much so, in fact, that it was an Instagram follower who tipped her about what was going on in Quebradillas via direct message.

She credits her decision to go independent for this, pointing out that many journalists of color who want to tell these kinds of stories are often being held back by their superiors.

“Management doesn’t always defer to us to know what our audience really wants,” she told The Times, noting that no outlet would really give her the time and resources to produce a 15-minute video on this topic. “We have to fight to get those stories done.”

“When you’re independent, you trust your gut and you leave it up to the audience to decide whether you made a good or bad decision and you’re going to see that in the comments, you’re going to see that in the response and the views.”

So far, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Graulau tells me that the support of her audience has enabled her to keep working on the stories she cares about. Her next report, which focuses on real estate development in legally protected land in Puerto Rico, was crowdfunded by her supporters.

She didn’t give me a timeline for when it will be published, though rest assured I’ll link to it in this space when it goes live.

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Telemundo is launching an English-language initiative.

This morning, Spanish language broadcaster Telemundo announced that it was launching Tplus, “a new content brand designed to super serve the full spectrum of today’s U.S. Hispanics.” If you’re reading this, that means you.

What is Tplus exactly? As of this moment it’s unclear — the press release promises English-language content that will live on Peacock, NBCUniversal’s streaming service — though it’s not surprising that Telemundo is making this move. As I wrote last February, the network has been dipping its toes in the English-dominant Latinx audience pool with efforts like Radar, so this announcement feels like their next step in this experiment. I’ve reached out to the network for an interview with someone who can shed more light on what Tplus is all about, so stay tuned.

Things we read this week that we think you should read.

— On Saturday night, Alejandro Garcia Galicia, 41, was shot and killed in front of his 19-year-old son while the two were working the night shift at a Taco Bell in South L.A. He died over a counterfeit $20 bill.

I’m not prone to include items from the crime beat in the newsletter
, but I don’t know, man. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this senseless killing ever since I saw this news report from Rick Montañez of CBS L.A., which showed the son wailing.

According to those who knew him, Garcia Galicia was a good, hardworking man who came 20 years ago from Cuernavaca, Mexico.

“He was an outgoing man and a jokester,” Karina Garcia De Meza, his cousin, told The Times. “If he saw you walking down the street with your groceries, he would offer to help. He was the type of person to help someone push their car if he came across them in the street.”

A suspect was arrested on Tuesday. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help his family.

— The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has this story on the Latinx communities of rural Georgia, which have increased even as the general population in those areas has decreased.

—As part of his recurring series “United States of California,” which focuses on how California is shaping the rest of the country, reporter Evan Halper went to Huron, a forgotten farmworker town in the Central Valley whose mayor, Rey León (dawg, his name is Lion King in Spanish!), is using electric cars to solve a much needed public transportation problem. The story also includes a seven-minute video put together by Jackeline Luna and Maggie Beidelman, which you can watch here.

— The Hill is reporting that several Democrats and grassroots organizations are pushing the Biden administration to consider student loan forgiveness, arguing that it could help his party in the upcoming midterm elections. Last month, Biden extended a student loan repayment moratorium put in place because of the pandemic until May. As one of the 72% of Latinxs who took out a student loan to pay for college, let me just say that it’d be pretty cool if I didn’t have to pay them back. In fact, people have been saying this.

— Last week, Vice President Kamala Harris hired longtime Democratic operative Jamal Simmons to be her new communications director. The announcement was quickly overshadowed by past tweets made by Simmons, who openly wondered why two undocumented activists were on television and weren’t immediately detained by ICE. There was backlash, and Simmons was forced to take to Twitter to poorly explain that he had missed the mark and was sorry people were offended. As Pablo Manriquez of Latino Rebels reports, Simmons also reached out to Erika Andiola, one of the activists in question and asked for forgiveness.

I don’t know Simmons personally, so I can’t speak to what’s in his heart, but I do know this: As someone who works in communications, I can say that optics, the way in which something is perceived, matter a lot. And if this story from Axios is to be believed and the vice president is looking to improve her standing with the Latinx community, hiring someone who has to apologize from the get-go is not a good look.

— Over the weekend, I watched the Disney animated film “Encanto.” It was cute and relatable (It was about Latinx generational trauma, after all), though if you asked me much of the conflict in could have been avoided if people moved away. As NBC News reports, the movie has been able to stay on the zeitgeist thanks in large part to TikTok. How popular is “Encanto?” The soundtrack knocked out Adele’s “30” from the top spot in the Billboard charts.

— Truth be told, I wasn’t planning on watching the 2022 Winter Olympics taking place next month largely because I’m a Mexican from Texas who once lived in Miami and now lives in California. I like temperate climate—lol, imagine being cold on purpose— and that preference means I’ve largely avoided winter sports.

But then I read this Column One profile written by Kevin Baxter of Donovan Carrillo, the first figure skater from Mexico to compete in the Winter Games since 1992. NBC can rest easy knowing I’ll be tuning in to watch Carillo dance to Santana. He probably won’t win anything, but 2022 is a World Cup year, which means it’s a year where “imaginemonos cosas chingonas” is allowed, so why not him?

—Times columnist Gustavo Arellano shared this great read from Teen Vogue about how a community space for young refugees from El Salvador became the birthplace of Washington, D.C.’s punk and hardcore scene. And in case you missed it, Gustavo filled in for the homie Justin Ray last Friday and wrote about Pepe Arciga, L.A.’s first Latinx columnist.

And now, for something a little different...

"Pan duuuuuulce time!"
(Susana Sanchez / Los Angeles Times)

Susana Sanchez is an art director, designer and illustrator for the Los Angeles Times. Sanchez’s childhood has deep roots in the Hollywood neighborhood by Sunset and Gower and the city of Alhambra during her teen years. She has traveled this country for her visual journalism career and she now lives in the Bay Area. Sanchez’s Central American upbringing inspires her colorful artwork today — a mix of bold colors and ‘still life’ of food! Here’s an explanation of the illustration in her own words:

‘Pan duuuuuulce time!’ My kids holler as I take them to our local panaderia in Concord, Calif., a suburb in the East Bay. We live in a non-Latin town and in order to get our legit pan dulce fix, we drive 20 minutes northeast or 20 minutes to Oakland. I let my kids pick whatever they want as they eye each dulce creation behind the plexiglass. My daughter Valentina is 8 and my son Joaquin is 10 and they always ask if they can handle the red tray and tongs to pick their favorite treat and I always have to say no, as I know they will make a mess or touch other pan dulces (and that’s not healthy in the world of today)! Both kiddos love the giant sprinkle cookies called galletas and I love the square cheesecakes and empanadas with lemon filling. I didn’t have a concha or any sweet empanadas or galletas until I was 40 years old.

When I was a child, my mother would never buy a diverse selection of pan dulce goodies like this for my siblings and me. My pobre madre told me that she couldn’t handle our sugar rushes after a regular slice of cake at a kid’s birthday party — she didn’t ever want to deal with the consequences of a pan dulce sugar rush. I remember vividly on our walks to and from La Adelita bakery #2 on Santa Monica Blvd. from our apartment that she’d only buy the square cheese cake or pan frances, French bread. While I never had these treats as a kid, my mom did make the most amazing home-made tortas with that pan frances, filled with avocado, sautéed onions and the most delicious steak! Every bite was juicy and my mother filled us with delicious meals that put us to sleep!

Now that I am a mom, I totally understand my mom and her need for some peace and quiet.

Are you a Latinx artist? We want your help telling our stories. Send us your pitches for illustrations, comics, GIFs and more! Email our art director at martina.ibanezbaldor@latimes.com.


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