Haley Vallejo
Assistant Campus Life Editor

Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1952. After years of colonization by the Spanish, the U.S. invaded and “acquired” Puerto Rico, but the U.S. has been on their land for much longer. The U.S. military occupied Guánica in the late 19th century. Under the Treaty of Paris, Spain ceded Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and Cuba to the USA. For Puerto Ricans, their relationship with the U.S. has been problematic, to say the least. The least the U.S. can do is provide aid to a country they have torn apart and still treat as a colony.

It is racist for the U.S. to not extend its support to one of its commonwealths, which is why people argue that making it a state would prevent the deaths and damage done by the U.S. response. The commonwealths of the United States, which are primarily made up of communities of color, are often neglected of basic rights while being tax-paying citizens. Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, leaving 5,000 dead in total from the storms themselves and their aftermath. These deaths could have been prevented had the administration at the time supported the people the states had abused for over a hundred years. The Trump administration has not surprised us with their blatant disrespect to communities of color and minorities, and their lack of aid to Puerto Rico during the storms compared to the aid received by Florida. States affected were visited by President Trump and received aid much quicker than Puerto Rico. The administration’s excuse was that it was not as easy to send help to an island as it was to a state. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy states: “Maria caused $90 billion in damage in Puerto Rico alone, and resulted in the longest blackout in U.S. history — it took 328 days for power to be restored to all neighborhoods on the island.”

People born in Puerto Rico are considered U.S. citizens and can elect representatives, yet they still cannot vote for president and are underrepresented in congress. Puerto Rico’s residents pay full taxes to Social Security and Medicare and, still, the U.S. federal government has neglected Puerto Rico when it comes to federal programs and assistance. Without proper representation in Congress, they are not able to push for that change. According to GovTrack, it has no senators and its representative in the House of Representatives is only a delegate, called the Resident Commissioner, with limited voting privileges.

After a 2012 referendum, the majority of voters indicated that they prefer statehood, except voter turnout in Puerto Rico has been low the decades these have taken place. A fifth referendum in 2017 showed that a majority voted for statehood, but there was a historic low of 23 percent in voter turnout. According to Harvard Politics, “The Partido Nuevo Progresista — New Progressive Party — is celebrating two major victories: their candidate being elected and Puerto Ricans voting ‘Yes’ for Puerto Rico to be annexed to the Union as a State — the latter with around 52 percent of the votes.” Yet in 2017, when 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voted in favor, those who opposed annexation protested voting, making the numbers unreliable. A methodologically sound, high-turnout vote on their status is a prerequisite to federal action.

For a country where people are born citizens and have had their people serving in the military since 1917, the very least the U.S. can do is extend the support they have given other states. The U.S. has been very divisive in recent years because of elected officials enabling racism and hateful agendas, which has prevented Puerto Rico from getting the support it deserves. Democrats have introduced various bills that would incorporate Puerto Rico into the states, but all have been rejected by a majority Republican Congress. Republicans are concerned that giving Puerto Rico — and Washington D.C. — statehood would sway congress left and pack it with Democrats, and although it would give them proper representation that they have been denied for years, people argue that the fantasy of 52 states uses Puerto Rico as a political pawn. The decision for statehood should be in the hands of its citizens, instead of being used as a means to push the U.S. forward. The impact of colonialism and their independence movement should also be recognized in the fight for justice for puertorriquenos. Important figures like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are urging the process to be led from within Puerto Rico instead of Washington. The U.S. has left a legacy of racism against Puerto Ricans, and it is an injustice to those who have been denied the rights of other Americans. In our fight for equality, we continue to fight in the states, we cannot forget to support our boricua familia. The U.S. mainlanders continue to ignore the current situation that has been taking place.

The answer to what should happen to the statehood of Puerto Rico should be left up to their citizens. The voting system is far from perfect, and there is much to be done about Puerto Rico’s voter turnouts before making decisions on behalf of their people. Puerto Rico does not need to be spoken for by mainlanders, but what we can do is offer our support in whatever path they choose for themselves. Giving Puerto Rico their agency and power back is one of the first steps needed. At a Hispanic Heritage month event in September, President-elect Joe Biden said, “I happen to believe that statehood would be the most effective means of ensuring that residents of Puerto Rico are treated equally, but the people of Puerto Rico must decide, and the U.S. federal government must respect and act on that decision.” The people of Puerto Rico deserve the aid and assistance they need after the years of what colonization has left behind. Statehood would provide a lot of beneficial change and recovery to the island, but only if we stop treating it as a colonized political pawn.

Feature Image: Courtesy of The Diplomatist

Author

  • Haley Vallejo is currently a senior studying digital media and design with a minor in marketing. Haley has been writing for the Quaker Campus since 2019. She is currently Campus Life Editor for the QC. Haley enjoys writing about activism, arts and culture, and campus community.

Haley Vallejo is currently a senior studying digital media and design with a minor in marketing. Haley has been writing for the Quaker Campus since 2019. She is currently Campus Life Editor for the QC. Haley enjoys writing about activism, arts and culture, and campus community.

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