Because, I’m not Puerto Rican. The future of that island should depend mostly on the aspirations and desires of the Americans who call that slip of volcanic land home. Mostly—although the U.S. Congress has to agree.
Tuesday, they, the Puerto Ricans, voted in a referendum on statehood. They’ve done it before, but this time something different happened. Statehood won. Well, hip, hip hooray, I say. Even though, my voice doesn’t matter.
The historic vote Tuesday doesn’t lead automatically to statehood. States are admitted to the union by acts of Congress, and Puerto Rico also elected a governor who does not favor statehood—so whether a proposal is moved in Congress and how Congress reacts is up in the air.
But, I would like Puerto Rico to be a state for several reasons.
First, its status as a “Commonwealth” is a holdover from the Spanish American War. Maybe for some U.S. overseas territories, which are small in size and population and whose long-term status is not settled, separate statehood makes little sense. But for Puerto Rico, as big as an eastern U.S. state and as populous as many U.S. states, continued status in Commonwealth limbo simply because we conquered them at the end of the 19th Century makes little sense. It’s been well over a century. We need to decide what to do, long term, with Puerto Rico. Marry her or dump her, I say, and I prefer marriage. I think there are really only two real options—let Puerto Rico go and become independent, or let it join the union. So my first reason for wanting Puerto Rico is that it resolves a long-term historic artifact that needs resolving. Let these American citizens fully participate in governing America.
Second, I like Puerto Rico. That’s truly a trivial point, I know. But my daughter-in-law is an American from Puerto Rico, my son got married there, and I would prefer not to need a passport to go back there, and I would like to go back there. Puerto Rico me gusto mucho.
Third, it gets at an issue that bugs me, a bit. Are we an English-speaking country, bilingual or multi-lingual? When this issue gets raised, the people raising it usually want English as THE official language and are loudly complaining about our patchwork culture. That’s what bugs me. I hate the simplicity and smugness of the American=English equation. But there is a nagging part of me that sees the efficiency of having an official language and having that language be English. The founding documents and all the laws of this union can then legitimately have their “official” versions for legal purposes.
So, to be honest, although I know it puts me in a political crowd where I rarely land and usually avoid, I would not fight an English-as-official-language law—if it were done well. That is a big if. If the proposed law didn’t seem anti-immigrant or anti-Spanish.
Anyway, there is a feature of such a law I would want included that I’m sure would inflame passions, but still is appropriate. If I were to write the English as Official Language law, I would include a second official language. Si, esta español. Why? Well, for one thing, Spanish has been spoken in territories that are part of states of the United States longer than English has. And the burgeoning Hispanic population of the U.S. means it’s becoming a more popular language. But, I would be willing to give Spanish, as the second official language of the United States, a secondary status. That is, it would be OK if debate in Congress were required to be in English, and if the federal courts always based their rulings on the English-language version of any law that comes before them. An official Spanish translation of any federal law would be required, and of any state or local law if more than 2.5 percent of the population of any jurisdiction self identified as primarily Spanish speaking would have to have an official Spanish translation—but the English-language document would be the legally binding one. So the U.S. would have two official languages, español y ingles, with English having a legal “preferred” status based on its historic importance. Finally, I would recognize the right of Native American nations to legally conduct their business in their indigenous languages, as long as they prepare an official English version of laws and regulations for the understanding of the larger culture, and would specifically legalize and support the provision of government services in any language required by the needs of the person interacting with the government. In other words, yes, a German-speaking Iowan could request—and get, a German translation, or Urdu or Chinese or whatever. Having an official language should not traduce other tongues.
Yeah. The debate over the legal status of Puerto Rico would certainly raise the Spanish question. I would want to clarify in law that the people of Puerto Rico can happily prattle on in their odd, but nice, abbreviated Spanish (why do they drop the s in muchas gracias?) and not worry that English will be imposed on them. It hasn’t taken root in 110 years, so let’s not go there now merely due to statehood.
Anyway, as noted, my vote for Puerto Rican statehood doesn’t count. Nor should it. I do have an opinion, that Puerto Rico would be better served as a state—but that’s an outsider’s opinion.
Like Puerto Ricans in national American elections, my vote doesn’t count in this decision that ought to be by Puerto Ricans. I am not even sure where my daughter-in-law lands on this debate—and her choice is way more important than mine.
But, that’s the final reason I favor Puerto Rican statehood. Right now, we have millions of American citizens who could constitutionally run to be President of the United States (they are citizens by birth born on American soil) but who can’t vote for President.
Name Puerto Rico a state—if Puerto Ricans decide they want to continue to be Americans. Their votes for President and in Congress should count, too.