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O.K. by me in America*

Over at the American Copy Editors Society’s discussion board they’ve been trying to figure out where to put Puerto Rico.

The Associated Press, for reasons best known — and perhaps known only — to itself, sends news from Puerto Rico packed with its foreign report. And some newspapers unthinkingly put Puerto Rican news with the world coverage rather than the national.

Back in the palmy days of the McKinley administration, when the United States decided that it wanted to be an imperial power, there just weren’t many places left to colonize. (We had tried to grab Canada twice, once during the Revolution and again during the War of 1812, but the U.S. has never paid much attention to its spectacular failures.) So we picked a fight with Spain, a much-decayed and tottering imperial power, and for the trouble of a short little war took over the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. The Philippine state has been independent since 1946, but we got Puerto Rico and Guam fair and square in 1898, and we’re holding on to them.

Both are American territories, American soil, under the American flag, so it seems, well, odd to write about them as if they were foreign entities.

One comment in this discussion included a remark that “Puerto Rico just doesn't feel like a part of America to me,” which I was floored to see. Puerto Ricans have held U.S. citizenship by act of Congress since 1917. Whether they seem like Americans or not, they indisputably are.

It comes to mind that one of the issues leading to the events of 1775 and 1776 was the attitude among Britons that the colonists in America just didn’t feel like real Englishmen, with, you know, rights and things. Attitudes can be troublesome.

*Yes, an allusion, a line from the song “America” in West Side Story.

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 8:55 AM | | Comments (12)
        

Comments

Puerto Rico doesn't seem like America to me either; neither do California, Hawaii and New York City.

John,

Perhaps the feeling that Puerto Ricans "don't feel like Americans" is because they don't entirely have all the same rights that we do here in the States. They can't vote; they can't hold seat in Congress; they can't get Social Security. They can, however, serve in our military and pay our taxes. So maybe it's a bit more like saying they want to be, but they're not allowed to.

On the other side of the coin, though, you're right that they should be represented in media as part of our nation if we're going to start accepting them as part of our nation.

JB,

Just as an FYI, Puerto Ricans on the island DO get Social Security.

Patricia,

And what exactly does America supposed to "seem" like? Are you referring to all the different ethnicities in California, Hawaii and New York City? Are you an American born and raised in America and did you receive at least a basic American education including history? Do you remember learning about that rich menagerie of colonists from Europe and beyond that came here to start a new life and found a new country? Please enlighten me as to what America should "seem" like because maybe I have been living in a mindless dream-state all of my life (or from your perspective perhaps it has been a nightmare?)

Regarding the remark by Patricia the Terse, long acquaintance leads me to conclude that her comment was suffused with irony.

Good article. You forgot to mention Cuba on the list of countries surrendered by Spain to the US. But we know what happened to them after they became independent. As a Puerto Rican I can tell you that the same debate/confusion takes place in Puerto Rico every single day. Some in PR call the island a nation while others call it a territory. Some will quote the US congress and some will quote the United Nations. One thing is for sure, all the federal agencies have full jurisdiction but we can't vote for the president and consequently we have no influence in his cabinet. It's depressing to live in a non permanent status I wish that the constitution would be amended to limit the period of existence for a territory. It was never meant to be permanent but nothing in the constitution prevents it from being permanent. Territorial status was supposed to be a step towards statehood but when there is no end then it blurs with colony.

Ed,

Correction noted.

I still contend that there's a sense of disunity between us and them, though, when there is (for all intents and purposes) a different definition of "citizen" for us and for them. It would be like saying a British resident alien isn't a foreigner.

We Puertorricans are Americans because we were born in a part of America just like the people of the United States or Venezuela or Argentina or any other american country. But if you were born in the USA and do not feel us like your kind of Americans it coul be because, of course, we are not your kind of Americans. We are Latin Americans an very proud of our heritage, language and culture.

So, correct me if I'm wrong: American "citizens" in Puerto Rico don't get votes in the Electoral College, and American "citizens" in the District of Columbia get votes in the Electoral College, but not in Congress. (If an inquiring Iraqi asks me to explain democracy, how do I explain such inconsistencies?)

It's amazing to me that in the USA (the giant melting pot for crying out loud!) there are people who don't feel Puertorricans as American. It's amazing to me that in this day and age there are still people who, for better or worse, can't get over geographical differences. YES, geographical differences because aside from that they differ from people in the US in culture and they are not that different. I would also like to point out that culture is not limited to territory and that there are many (and I mean MANY) different cultures in the US as we speak and it doesn't make the people participating in them any less American.

Pawlie...it's a shame isn't it? There are approximately 4,000,000 puerto ricans who are US citizens by birth but we do not get votes in the electoral college and the district of columbia in contrast has almost 600,000 residents and they DO get votes in the electoral collage but the difference lies in that they pay federal taxes...so there lies a bigger problem...taxation without representation. like Puerto Rico, DC has a non-voting member in congress who sits on committees and can vote on bills but cannot vote on bills that are to be finalized.
At the end of the day regarding the citizens of Puerto Rico, when you look at the statistics of those that are pro-statehood and pro-commonwealth combined against those (unfortunate) few who prefer independence, over 90% of the population are proud to be Americans.

Now ready for the interesting bit? Puerto Ricans on the Island can vote and do hold Presidential Primary elections...

Pawlie: Since you mentioned Iraqis and democracy I'm going to give you an interesting fact. President Bush has visited Iraq 3 times since the war started to promote democracy yet the last president in term to visit Puerto Rico was Gerald Ford in 1976. If the president wants to promote democracy he/she has to start in the backyard. Recently, oil has been discovered within 20 miles offshore of the island so this might encourage future presidents to visit.

Let me just say you people don’t know a whole lot about Puerto Rico other than what you might have seeing in the travel channel or in vacation. What a lot of people don’t like to talk about is why there are so few independentistas?. That during the 40’s and 50’s when the Democratic Party was begging to take shape; the second larges party was the Nationalist Party. During those years there was a very strong repression of the independent movement by the colonial government. (State run terrorism)

Did you know that you could be arrested and imprison just by wearing a black shirt? (Black shirt was the symbol of the nationalist movement) Hundreds of people were arrested. Also, on 1948 was enactment of Law 53 known as the “ley de la mordaza” (the law of the muzzle). A law which criminalizes all acts which favor Puerto Rican Independence. Some freedom huh!

It became almost impossible for pro-independence to find jobs in the government or ever receive housing benefits because of the political discrimination the majority of people that did not that didn’t forsake their political believe had to move else where, and they did (this was the age in which one of the greatest migrations to the US took place)
The forces that have for decades been suppressing our national sense has been ever present in the Puerto Rican life , even as late as the late 80’s early 90’s federal agents could make a file on you from tips the receive by informant (usually the police) “See http://www.pr-secretfiles.net/”.

I remember the first time I said to my family members that I believed in the Independence of Puerto Rico. Their reaction was one of astonishment mixed with fear. The warn me to pretend to be a “Popular” (Of the PPD) and just vote as an independentista “quietly”.
I wish that was just the reaction of a single family member or a group, but it’s not. To be an “independentista” is to have people look down on you, to make you feel ashamed of wanting to bring independence to my Nation while they celebrate the fourth of July.

I work in an environment where I communicate daily with people from many nationalities, including Americans, and I have found that I have nothing to be envious about them. I am Puerto Rican and I do not wish to be anything else. Such is not the fate of other, especially in a colony. What that dose to people’s self-esteem and how they view the world. The never ending political bickering and mindless debates “Full of sound of fury signifying nothing”.
You reading this might say “I’ve been down there and yes there is some difference, but not that much”. I say to you “Leave the metro area and see with new eyes the rest of the archipelago and you will see that we are not American. You will understand that we posses American citizenship, but we’re not American and you will see that the whole "two cultures and two languages" deal that you have hearing is just lies that pro-statehood have been saying for years to make you fall for it.
I don’t hate America, but I don’t like where we are right now politically. The right of self-determination and independence go hand in hand, not one conveniently void of the other. “We” not “You” must have the power to choose how we live our lives and how we enjoy our democracy. Otherwise true freedom will continue to be… just out of our reach.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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