Puerto Rico voted in favor of statehood in November of 2012, again in June of 2017,and yet again in November 2020. Statehood will provide benefits in economics, security, and full democratic rights.
That is not to say that there are no concerns. Here, let’s examine some of the concerns expressed in the media:
- Redesigning the flag While this might have been an issue in the past, modern design technology makes the creation of a flag with 51 stars very easy. Click here to see one possible arrangement for 51 stars. A new flag could also provide a boost to the economy as millions of new flags are sold — and perhaps the old flags would become collectors’ items.
- The language question The United States has no official language. Puerto Rico lists English as an official language. Spanish is the island’s other official language. If Puerto Rico becomes a state, it could follow the lead of Hawaii and keep two official languages. The United States does not have an official language, but there are people on the mainland who worry that bringing a largely Spanish-speaking state into the Union would cause problems in communication. While some U.S. states currently have 25% Spanish speaking populations, Puerto Rico’s population is about 90% Spanish speaking. At the same time, some Puerto Ricans are concerned that becoming a state will pressure the island to use English more. There is no reliable data on just how many people in the world speak only one language, but one educated guess from Stockholm University is that the average person in the world speaks 1.58 languages. Bilingualism is not a problem; it may soon be the norm.
- The culture question Since the early 20th century, there has been concern that Puerto Rico is simply too different, culturally, from the rest of the United States. There is a fear that Puerto Rico will be too foreign to be assimilated into the nation overall, or that Puerto Rico’s special cultural identity will be lost. Other territories have prompted the same concerns: Hawaii, Alaska, Utah, Arkansas, Louisiana, Arizona… This has in fact been an issue many times in our history. Looking back now, we generally see the objections of the time as outdated bigotry. The United States has not only managed to assimilate all 50 states thus far, but has also managed to respect and celebrate the diversity of our culture — including the millions of Puerto Ricans now living on the mainland.
- The welfare question It is possible that there might be some initial costs to the United States in adding Puerto Rico as a state, beyond the taxes Puerto Rico would bring into the government coffers, although it would be possible to mitigate costs though the same legislation that authorizes statehood for Puerto Rico. The examples of history, however, show that impoverished territories that come into the Union do not continue in poverty. Puerto Rico’s resources include good agricultural land, minerals, excellent opportunities for tourism, and an educated population. Without the drawbacks of its current territorial relationship with the United States, Puerto Rico might follow Hawaii’s and Alaska’s examples in prosperity.
- The Olympics and the Miss Universe pageant Puerto Rico is currently allowed to compete separately in the Olympics and in the Miss Universe pageant, although many Olympic athletes choose to participate through U.S. teams. Although the entities that govern these contests could theoretically choose to accommodate Puerto Rico separately, they would likely not do so. Puerto Rico would then participate in these contests as a full member of the United States, building U.S. Olympics teams and enabling all Americans to share in Puerto Rico’s success.
- Political power Puerto Rico will be entitled to approximately five seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and two in the Senate. There has been debate over where these seats would come from and which political party would gain power. The answers to both questions are simply unknown at this time. Congress set the maximum number of seats for itself and could presumably change that. In terms of the balance of power, Puerto Ricans on the mainland have not, however, voted in a predictable block, favoring, for example, Gov. Jeb Bush (R) in Florida while voting for President Obama. At its core, the Puerto Rico political issue is actually a component of the broader Hispanic political issue: Republicans will have to make strategic reforms to remain competitive nationwide.
Of these six concerns, which are worrying to you?