In November, lawmakers, advocates and New Yorkers from across the state will gather in San Juan for Somos el Futuro 2015. This year’s conference coincides with a critical juncture in our nation’s history, as candidates for the highest office in the country outline their solutions for the most pressing issues of our time.

It is more important than ever that New Yorkers harness Somos as an opportunity to set a forward-thinking, substantive agenda that is heard in the national conversation – and Latino voices are leading the charge. Our stories, perspectives and experiences can and will play a pivotal role in setting our country’s course. From immigration reform to health care access to solving the crisis in Puerto Rico, we must rise to the challenge and make our voices heard.

The severity of Puerto Rico’s $72 billion debt crisis cannot be overstated, and its implications are dire for millions of Puerto Ricans both on the island and here in the United States. Shortsighted and irresponsible lending, unfair trade practices and the systemic stifling of the Puerto Rican economy have resulted in an unsustainable fiscal situation now verging on the brink of collapse.

Already we have seen progress; this week, President Barack Obama announced a proposal to help Puerto Rico restructure its debt. However, Congress must work with the administration and act swiftly to ensure much-needed economic protections and support for Puerto Rico.

The United States has a duty and responsibility to support its citizens on the island and allow Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy and rebuild. New York is home to one of the highest populations of Puerto Ricans in the United States, and we have an opportunity at Somos to let our federal government (and presidential candidates) know that the Puerto Rican debt crisis is a priority. 

Puerto Ricans are United States citizens and deserve to be treated equally and fairly. Yet for thousands, these rights have proven elusive. Puerto Ricans buy into our federal health care system and pay the same Medicare taxes, but the island receives less health care funding than any of the 50 states. That means 3.5 million Puerto Ricans – 3.5 million U.S. citizens – are receiving second-class support. It’s time for that to change. It’s time for Washington to provide equal health care funding for Puerto Rican families.

Election Day 2016 is more than a year away, but presidential campaign season is in full swing. Already we have seen Republican candidates employ dangerous, discriminatory rhetoric meant to divide the American people and malign hardworking immigrants who contribute so much to our communities and our country. The ease with which GOP candidates weave hate and untruths into their already backward platforms indicates their lack of respect for the beautiful diversity of the United States.

Somos is a crucial reminder of that diversity, a snapshot of the many different colors, languages and stories that make New York home. It is a reminder that we cannot tolerate language that degrades and dehumanizes millions of immigrant Americans. Somos is a testament to coalition building, to cooperation, to the power inherent in the communities we represent to make meaningful change. It is time for Latinos to make our voices heard.

Somos el Futuro – this year, those words have never been truer.

Melissa Mark-Viverito is the New York City Council speaker.