A Quick-and-Dirty Reply to American Supporters of Puerto Rican Statehood
It’s true that a slim majority of Puerto Ricans supported statehood in the last plebiscite. If you put it up against the other options, probably a plurality of Puerto Ricans want statehood. If that’s enough for Americans to think it’s a good idea and advocate for it to their elected officials, they have my blessing and I wish them luck. They’re gonna need it.
But it may be worth considering not just *what* we want but *why* we may want it. Americans are so good these days at discussing how decades of discrimination and injustice continue to reverberate in the lives and experiences of Black people; they apply exactly none of this kind of analysis to Puerto Rico, whether because they don’t know the history or because there’s no sociocultural pressure for them to do so. Or both.
So why would Puerto Ricans — a distinct people with a distinct language and culture that would at the very least be partially subsumed by ‘Americanness’ — want statehood as opposed to independence, which we should consider the default option since it’s what 99% of former colonies throughout history have achieved? Why should we want it now most of all, at a time when the U.S. has proven quite… problematic, to say the least, for racial minorities?
The simplest (and not totally untrue) answer is that we are a very small, weak, poor country, and the U.S. is very rich and powerful, and statehood would allow us to share in more of that largesse. But how did Puerto Rico get so poor and weak? The U.S. has more or less been in charge for 120 years, and you don’t need to know all the details to make an educated guess that it hasn’t always ruled with Puerto Rican prosperity as its guiding purpose. My favorite analogy is that of an orphaned boy, adopted by often neglectful and sometimes abusive parents, who then inevitably considers himself (and is considered by everyone else) too vulnerable to stand on his own two feet and instead hopes to be permanently adopted by this less-than-loving family.
So, back Puerto Rican statehood if you will. And, if you do, I implore you to go fight for it. (Are you really, truly going to?) But do so with this context in mind; interrogate the notion that it’s at all “liberal” for the United States to invade a nation in an imperialist frenzy, exploit it, suppress its independence movement… and then get to keep it — and to keep it, in no small part, motivated by the promise of a couple of Senators to help repair the democracy you haven’t had the decency to extend to us.