By Layla Meléndez | October 3, 2022
Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio, more widely known as Bad Bunny, is a Puerto Rican reggaeton star. With sold-out tour dates all across the United States, he is increasing in popularity and influence. While he does engage in ordinary superstar behavior, such as appearing in Vogue and collaborating with Adidas, he has also been using his platform to spread awareness on social justice issues frequently.
Most recently, Bad Bunny released his music video for his hit song ‘El Apagón’; however, after the song was over, the video swiftly transitioned into an 18-minute documentary by independent reporter Bianca Gralau. The mini-documentary is called ‘Aquí Vive Gente’ (People Live Here), and highlights the housing crisis and housing inequality Puerto Rico is currently facing.
‘Aquí Vive Gente’ heavily discusses Puerta de Tierra, a neighborhood housing the Puerto Rican capital next to the popular tourist destination of Old San Juan. This central location has made the neighborhood especially interesting to the wealthy as owning real estate here opens one up to a lot of economic opportunity. Puerta de Tierra was not always a revered area amongst many.
Starting off as a community for newly freed slaves, Puerta de Tierra became a haven for low-income families as numerous public housing projects were built there. However, for the past few decades, the Puerto Rican government has destroyed about a thousand public housing units designed for low-income families.
One resident of Puerta de Tierra, Jose Luis Gonzalez, recounted how his great-great grandma, grandma, mother, himself, and his kids were all born in the community. He himself lived in one such public housing project for fifty-four years, before it was torn down and converted into luxury housing. Gonzalez voiced to Gralau that, because he is black and poor, he was ousted from his own community. He also remarked that it is unfair to be displaced due to the economic interests of the rich.
Puerto Rico has become a popular place for wealthy Americans to move because of tax incentives, particularly Act 22. This law allows non-native Puerto Ricans to avoid paying taxes on things such as stocks and real estate. There are currently about 3,170 people benefitting from Act 22 on the island of Puerto Rico. Since 2018, eight Act 22 beneficiaries have bought 28 properties in the neighborhood of Puerta De Tierra, where Jose Luis Gonzalez and his family are from.
What’s happening in Puerto Rico now directly reflects Puerto Rico’s beginnings as a U.S. territory. When the United States took possession of Puerto Rico, U.S. sugar companies took over the land, employing natives and rewarding them with abysmal salaries which kept them in poverty. Presently, Puerto Rico is still an American territory where tax incentives now allow Americans to buy cheap real estate on the island for rental purposes, where they again employ natives for cheap labor in the service industry.
These developments have sparked protests and movements across Puerto Rico from which sprouted the phrase “Gringo, go home”, calling for foreigners to remove themselves from the island and go back to the United States. The Puerto Rican government, however, welcomes this intervention because they are receiving funding for political campaigns from many American real estate investors. Government officials also see the influx of American real estate investors as a way to increase development on the island.
Even if the Puerto Rican government is not willing to fight against foreign investors displacing natives and destroying communities, Puerto Ricans are prepared to fight for their land hasta la tumba (to the grave).
For more on the housing crisis in Puerto Rico, please refer to ‘Aquí Vive Gente’ by Bianca Gralau.
*Since the release of ‘Aquí Vive Gente’, Puerto Rico has been decimated by Hurricane Fiona. The storm has left millions without electricity, water, and other basic essentials. To help out, please donate to local grassroots organizations and avoid donating to government agencies.
A list of organizations can be found on NPR's website.