What was supposed to be a fun night out with friends took a turn when CAS senior Rebecca Gelpí was denied entry at a bar. The reason? Her Puerto Rican ID.
Gelpí was out with friends last Saturday night when the group decided to go to Los Feliz — a Mexican bar and restaurant on the Lower East Side frequented by NYU students.
While waiting in line, two of Gelpí’s friends, who had a U.S. passport card and a Washington State ID, were let in without a hitch. When it came to her and her friend Lola Palerm, a New York Film Academy student — also holding a Puerto Rican driver’s license — she said the bouncer became skeptical.
“He told us that he was uncomfortable with our form of ID, that it was invalid and we should leave immediately,” Gelpí said.
Taken aback and confused, Gelpí tried to explain to the bouncer that Puerto Rican IDs are valid American identification cards, but he dismissed her and told them to go somewhere else, even calling over another bouncer.
“They asked us why we did not have our passports with us,” Gelpí said. “So I said, ‘Because we’re American citizens, we don’t need to carry [them] around.’”
Puerto Rico became a commonwealth of the U.S. in 1952, but Puerto Ricans have been granted birthright citizenship since the Jones Act of 1917. For Gelpí and Palerm, who were both born in Puerto Rico and are therefore automatic U.S. citizens, this incident was an unwelcome surprise.
“This is a place where Hispanics and Latinos go as a safe haven, to meet people just like us, and now we can’t be in here?” Palerm asked.
Gelpí and Palerm were not the only ones who have experienced this. Other customers have been denied entry for the same reason, according to the establishment’s Yelp reviews.
“Absolute terrible service,” wrote a user named ‘Kayla M’ on Oct. 26, 2019. “They would not take a legal US ID because it was from Puerto Rico which is part of the US and issues legal IDs.”
Another user had a similar complaint.
“Terrible and racist towards Puerto Ricans, we went to have a fun night out and couldn’t get in because they wouldn’t accept our ID even though we’re US citizens,” a user by the name of ‘Daniella S’ posted on August 23, 2019.
Los Feliz bar manager Jeremy Hansen said the bar does not have any protocol regarding Puerto Rican IDs.
“It is not our policy to deny Puerto Rican IDs,” Hansen told WSN. “If any ID may appear to be fake and we cannot verify its authenticity, we may deny it. This has happened from everything to Pennsylvania IDs to Oregon IDs to, yes, even Puerto Rican IDs.”
Gelpí and Palerm are both over 21 and the authenticity of their IDs could have been verified by a scanner, which the bouncers had. Defeated and disappointed, they left the venue.
“I just feel there is still a lot to learn from this situation, people should know we’re American citizens,” Gelpí said.
Last November, 20-year-old Puerto Rican student José A. Guzmán-Payano, who studies at Purdue University, was denied cold medicine at a CVS Pharmacy in Indiana because the employees did not perceive his driver’s license as a valid form of ID, the New York Times reported.
Palerm attributed the incident to baseless stigma against Puerto Ricans.
“It could be a mix of both ignorance and discrimination,” Palerm said. “[Puerto Ricans] can have a bad rap of being rowdy, but I want to think it’s mostly ignorance.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, March 2, 2020, print edition. Email Cecilia Hua at [email protected]