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A Clear Explanation of the Territories of the United States

As this video explains, Puerto Rico is an organized, unincorporated territory of the U.S., containing 91% of the people living in all of the U.S. territories and more people than in 21 of the States.

As the video further explains, Puerto Ricans are citizens of the United States “and the U.S. treats Puerto Rico as a State in almost all but name.” The video lays out some of the ways that Puerto Rico differs from States: U.S. citizens living in Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections — even though U.S. citizens living in foreign countries can; they have a sole congressional representative who cannot vote in the U.S. House of Representatives (and no senators), and the U.S. Constitution does not fully apply.

The video sorts the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia into a graph that not only clarifies the legal status of each of these places but also goes on to show where in the graph they logically belong, which is not the same as where they are now. “Don’t hold your breath,” the narrator recommends, pointing out that Congress hasn’t yet gotten around to updating or correcting any of the logical — or indeed the practical — problems with all the American possessions.

This video may help clarify some things you’ve found confusing. It’s also well suited for classroom use. If you use it in the classroom, here is a hands-on activity:

  • Recreate the graph either on your Smartboard or on your marker board with Post-Its marked with the names of all the territories. Have students put the territories where they now officially belong.
  • Research the position of Puerto Rico, which holds nearly all the population of the territories, as a class. A good starting point is our article, “Puerto Rico: A U.S. Territory.” Other relevant articles: “What Does It Mean to Be a Territory” and “Puerto Rico Is a Territory.”
  • Have students research the other territories, dividing them up among small groups of students.
  • As a class, discuss whether any of the territories are in the wrong places. Have students move the Post-Its until a consensus is reached; if the class cannot agree, hold a class vote and let the majority decide.
  • Compare your final arrangement with the improved division in the video.
  • Write a group letter to your congressional representative proposing the new arrangement.

The video is by C.G.P. Grey, a videographer and podcaster known for very clear explanations of very complex subjects. The text transcription has punctuation errors; if you use it in the classroom, give students extra points for catching those errors.

2 thoughts on “A Clear Explanation of the Territories of the United States”

  1. Disenfranchised in PR since 1971

    FANTASTIC! Superb. Comprehensive. Clever.

    Should be studied — even if for only a day or two — in the high schools of every U.S. state and territory.

  2. Pingback: The United States… And Territories: The State of Puerto Rico – Berkeley Political Review

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