“But you don’t look Puerto Rican…”
I get that a lot. I’m light-skinned and somewhat blonde, have a German last name, and speak English without a heavy Latino accent. But yes, I am Puerto Rican, born and raised.
My grandfather from my father’s side was an American. And when I say American, I mean actually from the United States—although technically, as a Puerto Rican, I am also a U.S. citizen. He and my Puerto Rican grandmother lived in South Carolina, and every year since I was a toddler, my brother and I would spend the whole summer with them. We would go to every single summer camp imaginable, from sports camps to Bible camps. I made plenty of friends, and honestly, adapted very well, which is why I can truthfully say I have great childhood memories of my summers in the States. But as I grew older, I became less and less interested in spending my summers away from home.
I was able to learn from personal experience at a young age that, culturally, we are very different. Not just in the obvious ways like the languages we speak, but in the small details of everyday life, like the food we eat, our interests, how we express ourselves, or how we address one another. It’s hard to put these differences into words, but the easiest way I could characterize them would be through my grandparents. My Puerto Rican grandmother was always loving, giving us plenty of hugs and kisses throughout the day, making sure we were enjoying ourselves—in short, taking care of us. My grandfather was less expressive, a very serious man who, while always kind, was a lot more reserved. Although he lived in Puerto Rico for years, he never learned Spanish.
Politics in Puerto Rico revolve around our relationship with the U.S. There are three main ideologies that favor either statehood, remaining a commonwealth, or independence. Both the statehood and commonwealth approaches have always been at the forefront of discussions on Puerto Rico’s future, with independence as a distant third. The status never ceases to be relevant in Puerto Rico, and everyone has an opinion. Especially now, in the midst of the economic recession, which has hit Puerto Rico particularly hard, resolving the status issue seems more important than ever.
Having this background and these experiences, and having spent so much time in the U.S. as a kid, it may surprise people that I do not favor Puerto Rican statehood, as nearly half of Puerto Ricans do. After all, some ask, as I am already a U.S. citizen, and had such a strong American influence growing up, why wouldn’t I want Puerto Rico to become the 51st state? But the fact is, although adapted and very well integrated, I do not feel American. I cannot identify with American culture. Even though I felt completely comfortable spending my summers in the United States, I have always felt different. I felt then, and I feel now, Puerto Rican.
The United States is a country I greatly respect and admire. I would not be studying here if that were not true. But I have my own culture and I am proud of it, which is why I favor independence for Puerto Rico. Something “in between,” the Commonwealth status we have been in since 1952, doesn’t really seem like a final, decisive solution anymore. While a great number of Puerto Ricans would prefer to maintain the current status quo, or look to expand the powers of the Commonwealth, I believe that, realistically, there is no more room for it to grow.
One of my good friends at Georgetown was one of those who questioned my opinion on what the future of Puerto Rico’s status should be. He simply did not understand why any Puerto Rican would be averse to statehood. Last semester, he went to Puerto Rico with me and other Puerto Rican Georgetown students. By the end of his visit, he said to me, “Now I understand why you want independence. This is something else, something totally different from the U.S.”
I am well aware there are many challenges Puerto Rico must face before independence becomes a plausible option. It is not just a matter of cultural identity, and there are other factors to be considered. But there are challenges to any of the status options. While my belief is not necessarily one that the majority shares, I believe in it fervently. It is not a conclusion I have reached on a whim, but one that was forged throughout my personal experiences, one to which I have given a lot of thought. One thing is sure, though: no matter what ideology Puerto Ricans may believe in, be it independence, commonwealth, or statehood, we are all proud of where we come from.