As he ended his tenure as Majority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-MD) made the following remarks during a discussion of the Puerto Rico Status Act, which passed the House in December.
“Puerto Ricans and people of Puerto Rican descent have had an important place in the American family for over a century. They contribute to American culture. They help protect America’s national security. They support the American economy and our shared prosperity. They are American citizens like you and me. For far too long, however, the people of Puerto Rico have been excluded from the full promise of American democracy and self-determination that our nation has always championed.”
“Many of us have different opinions on which status is best for Puerto Rico. Personally, I’ve advocated for Puerto Rico’s statehood ever since I first visited the island in 1976,” Hoyer continued. He went on to describe the bill and to exhort his fellow congressional reps to support it. All Democratic members voted in favor, as did 16 Republicans.
Hoyer’s remarks included a list of the benefits and commitments Puerto Rico has offered to the United States over its years as a territory.
Puerto Rico contributes to American culture
Puerto Rico brings rich cultural contributions to the complex landscape of American culture.
Music and dance from Puerto Rico are popular across the nation. Salsa and merengue, reggaetón and Latin pop are well known in the states. Bombas, boleros, trova, guaracha, cumbia, and plena may be less familiar to some Americans.
Examples of folk music and traditional dance music from the Library of Congress field recordings are shared below, but most of us frequently Puerto Rican music — perhaps without realizing it. Some of the favorite current examples: Bad Bunny, Ricky Martin, Gina Rodriguez, Jennifer Lopez, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daddy Yankee, Rita Moreno, José Feliciano, and Ozuna.
Puerto Rican foods like mofongo, sofrito, tostones, pasteles, arroz con pollo and albondigón can be found in the states as well as in Puerto Rico. Many ordinary English words for food come from Taino, the first language spoken in what is now Puerto Rico: “barbecue,” “cassava,” “guava,” and “potato” are examples.
Puerto Ricans on the Island and in the states contribute to all of the arts.
Puerto Rico helps protect America’s national security
The percentage of men and women from Puerto Rico who join the armed services is higher than that of any state. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have served in the military.
Puerto Rico is a gateway to South America. It provided access to and oversight of the Panama Canal and a location for a pivotal naval base in the Caribbean.
Now Puerto Rico is important in the tension between the United States and China. “The only way that China can exercise influence in Puerto Rico and move freely around the globe,” says Alexander Odishelidze in his book America’s Last Fortress: Puerto Rico’s Sovereignty, China’s Caribbean Belt and Road, and America’s National Security, “is if Puerto Rico becomes an independent nation.”
The Belt and Road Initiative, launched in 2013 by President Xi Jinping, is considered a modern take on the ancient Silk Road. Nineteen Latin American and Caribbean nations have signed up, and Puerto Rico is an obstacle to China’s plans in the New World.
Puerto Rico supports the U.S. economy
The United States is Puerto Rico’s top trading partner. 58% of all Puerto Rico’s trade takes place with the United States. Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the U.S. so this is still domestic trade, but it is a significant demand factor for U.S. companies.
Puerto Rico also pays federal taxes. While the amount varies from year to year, it is near the amount paid by some states. While individuals do not pay income tax on wages earned in Puerto Rico, they pay federal Social Security taxes.
If Puerto Rico became a state, as Hoyer suggests, its contributions to the nation would increase as have those of the 32 territories which have already become states.
Puerto Ricans are American citizens
Since 1917, people born in Puerto Rico have been U.S. citizens. Unless and until Puerto Rico becomes an independent nation, the United States will be as responsible for the residents of Puerto Rico as for the U.S. citizens living in the 50 states.