PHHS student fights for representation of Puerto Rico

Hint: She wins

flag ceremony

Mayra holds her country’s flag on Nov. 13 at the annual MU Flag Ceremony

Nutrition graduate student Mayra Crespo-Bellido and friends, including Public Health PhD student Coral Cotto-Negrón, recently made the successful argument to reinstate the Puerto Rican flag in the MU lounge. The flag was removed in 2016 because Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and U.S. state flags are not hung in the lounge.

Mayra argued that residents are U.S. citizens but that they can’t vote in U.S. elections or have full representation in Congress. Therefore, US. territories are not treated like U.S. states.

The MU Advisory Board agreed, and Mayra was at the MU when the Puerto Rican flag joined 114 others in representing OSU’s international student population.

When Mayra first came to Oregon State, she says seeing the flag hung in the MU made her feel welcome. “The unusual political situation of PR as a commonwealth of the U.S. often results in minimal representation and recognition of our culture in some spaces on the mainland,” she says “Since there are so few of us at OSU, the representation of our flag communicates that we are seen and recognized as valuable members of the institution,” she says.

Mayra and Coral initiated a conversation with the MU Board in April 2016 about adding the flag back to the lounge. She continued exchanging letters with the board and was joined by PhD student Barbara Hudson-Hanley, who studies environmental health. The group finally met support when MU President Angel Mandujano-Guevara reached out to better understand the situation and met with the students to push for inclusion of the flags of U.S. territories.

“I got emotional seeing my flag hung back up,” Mayra says. “After the aftermath of Hurricane María and the 10-year recession that has caused increased unemployment, poverty and family separation caused by immigration to the island, the Puerto Rican flag has become a sign of our resiliency and solidarity with each other. Having our flag be recognized as the honorary flag at this ceremony recognized the humanitarian crisis areas of PR are still experiencing.”

Mayra is in the third year of her doctoral degree and studies the epidemiology of food insecurity. After graduating, she hopes to return to Puerto Rico and become a faculty member at the University of Puerto Rico in nutrition and dietetics and also serve as an advocate for the improving food security and food sovereignty on the island.