By Seth Crider
Last November Puerto Rican’s took part in a two-part referendum in which they were asked to contribute to a poll about the status of their “multi-identity” homeland. The results were surprising, but not completely conclusive, now the floodgates have been open for an ongoing debate on Puerto Rico’s path forward.
The first question asked voters if they supported Puerto Rico’s status as an island commonwealth; 54 percent voted no.
The second question asked for an alternative to their current status and a reported 61 percent of those that voted chose statehood. However 480,000 people chose not to answer the second question.
Other referendums in the past, for instance, those administered in 1967, 1993, and 1998 were not conclusive and failed to uphold a majority. Why is there then a sudden output of citizens supporting American statehood more than ten years since the last referendum?
Puerto Rican Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock proposed that “An economic downturn and shrinking population were the factors that contributed to the support for statehood.”
In 1952 Puerto Rico became a commonwealth under the United States with a limited self-government. Meaning that the government of Puerto Rico determines local affairs such as taxation, language, and health of its citizens. The Federal Government of the United States determines state affairs like immigration, defense, currency, and foreign trade.
That also means that the more than 4 million inhabitants of Puerto Rico are not included in the election of our president every four years.
According to “Nation, Migration, Identity: The Case of Puerto Ricans” by Jorge Duany from the University of Puerto Rico, “Since the 1940s, more than 1.6 million islanders have relocated abroad. Today, nearly half of all persons of Puerto Rican origin live in the continental United States.”
This “transmigration” of people to and from Cuba have drastically changed the landscape of cultural opinions of its members since its conception as a commonwealth. That also means economic changes, and shifts of political orientation.
Duany also adds in his report, “ More specifically, I propose that the emergence of cultural nationalism as a dominant discourse in Puerto Rico is partly the result of a growing diaspora since the 1940s. Puerto Ricans have increasingly moved away from imagining the Island as a sovereign territory apart from the United States, and yet most continue to cling to the notion that Puerto Rico is a distinct nation with its own territory, language, and culture.”
Jorge Benitez a Professor of History at the University of Puerto Rico is also unsure of the ballot but is keen to the always changing Puerto Rico.
“This isn’t to say that support for statehood hasn’t increased; it has,” said Benitez. “But the only thing we can decipher with certainty from the vote is that the people of Puerto Rico want a change to the current status.”
And with Puerto Rico’s New Progressive Party pushing legislation to U.S Congress this month to address statehood it may be sooner than later that the U.S confronts what type of Puerto Rico...Puerto Rico wants.