BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (WTNH) — More people of Puerto Rican heritage live in the United States than on the island itself. Many are predicting that those numbers could swell even more as Puerto Rico struggles financially.
On the eve of the Puerto Rican parade weekend, it’s easy to spot Puerto Rican pride in Connecticut’s largest city of Bridgeport; from the streets, to the vendors, to the smiling children proudly waving flags. These good times are overshadowed by a huge financial debt, looming ominously over the Caribbean island, a U.S. territory.
“These people leaving Puerto Rico now, they’re leaving Puerto Rico because they’re afraid of what’s going on in Puerto Rico,” said Bridgeport City Councilwoman Lydia Martinez.
She came from Puerto Rico at age 13. Her native island is now facing a debt burden of $72 billion. Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla says it cannot be paid.
Martinez says many family members she spoke with are making plans to move in the U.S., heading straight for established Puerto Rican communities in Connecticut’s big cities.
“They’re afraid, afraid they’ll lose everything and wind up with nothing,” Martinez said. “They’d rather come and see if they could find something in the U.S.”
Seven-percent of Connecticut’s population is Puerto Rican, making it the largest percentage in the nation. Cities like Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, and Waterbury have large Hispanic communities which could see a big influx from the island’s exodus.
Martinez says the Bridgeport City Council isn’t concerned about a strain on city services, and that so far no discussions are planned to address the possibility.
“I have more concerns for people that will stay back in Puerto Rico than those that are coming here,” she said.
Puerto Rico does not have bankruptcy protections that would allow it to restructure that massive debt. However, there is a growing number of politicians who are calling for the United States to allow the island to declare bankruptcy.