Voices

The nation of Puerto Rico, an unrealized dream

“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.



11 comments on “The nation of Puerto Rico, an unrealized dream
  1. Pingback: Vox Populi » This week in the Voice: Sexual assault at Georgetown

  2. KEVIN on said:

    I am a very proud Puerto Rican American, both my parents are from the island. I was born and raised in the United States (NJ). I can relate to this article in many ways. I respect the writers views. In my opinion, I would like PR to remain a commonwealth but with improvements. I agree that this status is ambiguous at best, but my concerns are more about the quality of life for my friends and family back on the island.

    Compared to most Latin American countries, I believe Puerto Rico has it good. If PR becomes independent, they may lose the privileges we all enjoy as American citizens.

    I don’t believe I have the right to vote on the issue because I do not live in Puerto Rico, but I DO have a strong opinion about it as most Puerto Ricans “representing” here in the US.

    I think if you speak to 10 Puerto Ricans about this topic, you will get 1000 opinions. Ha Ha HA! We are a passionate people.
    But I think we can all agree that we love Puerto Rico!

  3. Gregory Perkins on said:

    I live in Puerto Rico. I believe the Puerto Rican who have great passion about their “country” should come back home and make it a better place. It is being abandoned by the young, the professional and the industrious. A large number of those who remain believe the Americans owe them something and work harder at getting free services from the system than improving their “country”.
    Puerto Rico continues on a down hill slide because the politicians work hard a pillaging the system and defending their status quo. The number one industry is government and the second is the transit of drugs with theft of copper and aluminum taking up a close third.
    Until Puerto Rico gets a major influx of new blood and new thinking there will be no change. Puerto Ricans need to realize that culture changes. It is inevitable. The culture they enjoyed while visiting “Abuela” grandmother during summer vacations no longer exists.
    Come back home and rebuild your country.

  4. Jaime Sotomayor on said:

    “Now I understand why you want independence. This is something else, something totally different from the U.S.”

    REALLY????? Could you tell me which \U.S.\ is that? Are you saying that D.C., New York, Atlanta, Nashville, Miami, Dallas, San Antonio, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Honolulu are ALL the same, but somehow Puerto Rico is \different\ and we need to be cut loose from the rest of our counry because we are so different???? Great argument!

    This is about as \smart\ as the people who argue that \Americans don’t like us\ and theefore we need to leave our Nation. I wonder if that is the position of the NAACP regarding the way that some \Americans\ don’t like the black people?

    Statehood for Puerto Rico is not a \cultural\ matter. It is a matter of CIVIL RIGHTS! There are 4 million AMERICAN CITIZENS living on an Island who are not allowed to have the same rights, privileges and obligations as every other U.S. citizen who decides to live ANYWHERE ELSE ON THIS PLANET. If those 4 million people simpy decide to move to the Mailand U.S., or to any other country on the planet, they can then enjoy those same rights which they are denied on the U.S. soil where they were born. Does this really make sense to any of you? Can you say \Apartheid\ boys and girls? I knew you could!

  5. I am a retired University of Puerto Rico’s professor and a veteran of the Korean war. It surprises me that a Georgetown university student does not know that Puerto Rican culture and what he believes is American culture are modified fenomena of Western culture. The two cultures have more similarities than differences. Furthermore, after over a century of close albeit unequal relationship, the similarities have grown as much as one state can resemble another. Therefore, althoug I respect the student’s opinion, I expect he shall change as time enriches his limited experience.

    In a globalized world the pockets of special cultures will lose their superficial atraction and a different product will be needed to survive. There are facts that the student does not take into account such as the number of Puerto Ricans living today in the States. There has been a brain drain for many decades and it is absurd to think of Puerto Rican Culture as a static folksy nostalgic thing.

  6. Jose Oyola on said:

    Some facts for young people to consider as they continue the 112-year political status debate.

    IF Puerto Rico becomes independent, what will happen?

    1. US citizenship will change to PR citizenship.

    Not carrying a US passport means the end of unrestricted migration to the 50 States for the residents of PR.

    The same immigration laws and procedures that apply, say, to the citizens of the Dominican Republic will apply to the citizens of Puerto Rico.

    2. Federal laws will no longer apply in Puerto Rico. This means, for example, the end of

    a. federal PELL grant & student loan for students in public and private universities
    b. federally-guaranteed mortgage loan program to buy a house with a 30-yr fixed rate
    c. federal deposit insurance on bank deposits
    d. federal loans for agriculture, small business, water and sewer projects

    The government of the Republic of PR will be able to create its own programs to substitute all of the above. The government will also be able to come to Washington, DC, to apply for development loans at the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, if Puerto Rico becomes a member of these institutions.

    3. End of US military service for Puerto Ricans.

    4. The government’s access to the US municipal bond market will end. The Republic of Puerto Rico will issue sovereign bonds at a higher rate in international markets, like the Dominican Republic.

    5. The US Postal Service will be replaced by a local Postal Service. The salaries of US Postal Service employees will be commensurate with the wages paid toemployees of the PR government, not the federal government.

    6. The Internal Revenue Service will leave Puerto Rico. Federal taxes paid on wages for Social Security and Medicare, and federal taxes paid by employers for unemployment will be terminated. The leaders of the new Republic will have the ability to create their own Social Security and Health Care System for the citizens of the Republic.

    7. The federal tax on gasoline will be terminated. The leaders of the New Republic will have the ability to establish their own tax system.

    8. The US Federal Communications Commission will no longer control the issuing of communication licenses for TV, ratio, internet, telephone in Puerto Rico. The leaders of the Republic of PR will decide who will get the licenses.

    This is a sample of the far-reaching consequences that will affect the daily lives of the residents of Puerto Rico if it becomes independent.

  7. Gabriel Olivera on said:

    Dear Margo, We have many things in common my dear friend… When I attended college I was also told “you don’t look puertorrican…, native puertorrican?” It was then that I realized the sad socio- economic reality that many puertorricans encounter as they immigrate to the US during earlier decades. Once a good friend of mine, Miguel Laffitte, replied to an uninformed American Caucasian who said the same comment to him “well my friend you don’t look native American either…”

    Margo, you and I, share a grandfather who emigrated from Majorca, Spain to Puerto Rico with no money, in search for a better economic future. Our grandfather came from a different culture and spoke a Spanish dialect, not the same Spanish that you and I speak. He adapted to our culture, married our grandmother, Margo, raised a beautiful family and a very successful coffee plantation in Lares. In politically stable Puerto Rico our grandfather found economic prosperity, freedom and happiness.

    You mentioned in your writing, “culturally, we are very different” and it’s true. While I attended at Boston University, my wife and I became close friends with a couple from Louisiana. We shared similar food taste, had the same happy spirit, catholic religion, and came from close knit families. In other words, we shared a very similar culture and values with our friends from French- Spanish background Louisiana, were the Cajun language is only spoken by 33,670 residents.

    The US is a rainbow of cultures: Texans, Hawaiians, Afro Americans, Asian Americans, native American Indians, Latinos in Miami (mostly Cubans who are very different from the Latinos in California mostly Mexican) and the Latinos in New York, who are mostly puertorricans and so many others. Recent trends show an increasing the number of cultures in the USA with a stronger immigration from Indian, African and Arab countries. The reason to forge the USA nation was not to create a single culture as that such a philosophy leads to discriminatory values. The Pew Foundation has reported an increase trend in cross ethnical marriages in the US. Our own grandparents were cross ethnical European marriages. A happy marriage is the one that transcends barriers and individuality for a greater good. I believe cultures are not meant to be segregated, humans need to interact and learn to live in harmony respecting and sharing basic human values and principles. One of the solutions for our society and for the world’s contemporary problems is unity.

    We have different dreams for our dear Puerto Rico. I respect your dream and urge you to fight for your believes with peace. The fact is that the pro PR Independence movement has diminished to only a 3% of our population, from being the large political force that it was at the beginning of the century. I have a different dream; I dream with the day that Puerto Rico becomes the 51st state on the Union. I strongly believe that PR should be a formal state of the Union because we share the same basic human principles and values, and because we have helped forge the nation with our own blood and lives. While serving the Nation, many puertorricans soldiers gave their lives, specifically: 368 soldiers during World War II, 706 soldiers during the Korean War and 320 soldiers during Vietnam. Our own uncle, Lorenzo Folch, was a US soldier during the First World War.

    Puertorrican lifes have also been lost at the Iraq War – 35, and at the Afghanistan War – 6. More puertorrican soldiers died during the Korean War than soldier from 36 other states of the union.

    Becoming a state of the union is a process of sharing values and principles most of which our founding fathers established: equality, freedom of expression, freedom of religion, justice by a group of states that decided to be together for a greater good of the union and its new citizens. We can’t love what we don’t know… we don’t know what , how it could be an independent Puerto Rico as we all have lived and loved the only PR that we know: PR, USA since 1898. But we have visited many countries in Latin-American and around the world and have seen economic injustice, persecution for religious believes, social injustice, poverty, and human rights violations as witness by the Jesuits in Nicaragua and El Salvador as the Jesuits tough me at Colegio San Ignacio.

    We share same culture, family, experiences but we don’t share the same dream for our Puerto Rico. I respect you for your beliefs but in my humble opinion, it doesn’t honor the point of views of the other 97% of the puertorricans who want to be part of the Union (of which close to 50% are pro statehood). The Pilgrims settled in the US in pursue of liberty as they were persecuted in their own native nation. The US is a nation not forge on one culture as history has demonstrated, it is a nation where…
    “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

    We all can’t “look puertorrican…” nor American… if there is such a profile or stereotype but we can all feel American when we share the values and principles of our nation. I am a proud to be puertorrican and a proud US citizen. God bless you Margo, God bless Georgetown, God bless PR and God bless America.

  8. gabe magraner on said:

    May God give you the grace to continue to see what is best for the PRican people, and moreover, the will to make changes that may be appropriate, esp with the social and moral unrest…other things will follow after the people is educated and driven to the same goal, whatever that may be. I have become attached to Texas, so I do not count much…I know my roots very well and strive to carry these with pride; I also know that even if the PRican people wanted to become a state that is not likely to happen as will affect decisions at the Congress level, something that the common US citizen does not want! Besides the island is not as important strategically as during the Cold War days, with rising unemployment and increased use of cupones! So why PR politicians do not stop this status issue for a while in concentrate in estabilizing an island where the guns are pointing the way…perhaps many are making a profit…an island that were once ( and probably still is)filled with honest, hard-working people with a desire to help the ones in need and give you a so much needed embrace and smile in times of despair. Your brother in Christ, g magraner

  9. Omar Vazquez on said:

    Greetings,

    Although I truly respect your opinion, cannot in any way agree with it. When I first landed in the United States I was also told, “you don’t look Puerto Rican”, and that in no way makes me less or more Puerto Rican than anyone else or less or more American than anyone else. I treasure my island of Puerto Rico as well as I treasure its culture in all aspects. I lived close to 10 years in the United States and I loved it.

    Once I came back to Puerto Rico, I realized my island and my people could benefit from being a state as there are lots of great things we should copy from the states. If it was not a good thing, we would not have 4 million Puerto Ricans living in the United States. I am certain we can grow as a people if we become a state of the union. At present we receive 23,000 billion dollars from the US government to subsidize almost all of our daily operations in order to maintain our little island. As Puerto Ricans we only provide approximately 8,000 billion into our budget. Imagine if Puerto Rico lost the 23,000 billion dollars we receive each year? Imagine yourself without that money, cuold young people like you and I have the oportunity to study at Georgetown??

    Think wisely, what else do we have left for the betterment of society but to become a state of the union.?

    Regards,

    Omar Vazquez Ruiz

  10. Taina Areizaga on said:

    I agree that Puerto Rico should become Independent. Puerto Rico selfed ruled itself for fifty years under Spanish rule. In 1898 the the United States took Puerto Rico over and as Theodore Roosevelt wrote in a government document he always planned for Puerto Rico to be a colony. There was a time we weren’t allowed to speak spanish or weren’t allowed to carry our own flags. The government even tried to sterilize our women to control our population. I watched a documentary about this. A lot Puerto Ricans are mistreated here in the states. I am a perfect example of this. I am a darker Boricua and I get mistaken for indian or Hawaiian. Which brings me to another point our American government has even tried to whitten our people in the past. Even now the government has sat back and watched as drugs and crime are consuming my people. How lack of jobs and poverty are threatening to distroy our people. There is such little history taught to our people about the exploitation that has been done to us. There is no true Puerto Rican look we come in all shades and sizes. We have the proud blood of the Tainos,West African,Spanish and for some European. That’s what make our island so beautiful the richness of our culture. When I visited Puerto Rico in August I went to El Yunque and I cried it was as if I heard the voices of my Taino Ancesters crying out to me for freedom. It is time for Borinquen to be liberated to free ourselves of the shackles the United States have placed on us. Statehood would mean the distruction of our country and it’s culture. I have friends who are Hawaiian and they have showed me how statehood has made many true hawaiians suffer in their own country. The natives as many as 1 in 5 life in poverty. This will happen in Puerto Rico. There land is being destroyed by America with all their testing of weapons by the military. The United States is allowing for Puerto Rican natives to suffer so much povery they are leaving Puerto Rico there are many empty and abandoned homes in Puerto Rico. I am moving back to my Isla becuase I want to help my people my children love it over there so much they cried to go back. In Puerto Rico I belong my heart is there and I want my Island to be free to be free at last!

  11. Eduardo Rubiera on said:

    My wife Nancy (Folch) and I were researching her dad’s, Lorenzo, service record and came across this page. Indeed, he was in the Army Corp of Engineers in France during WWI. First, Margo, you write very well, and I hope you will do more it. Gabriel and Gabe, of course we know your families, as both your mother and father, respectively are my wife’s first cousins.

    It’s great to see the next generation expressing their views so well regarding status for Puerto Rico.

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