Is Puerto Rico Too Foreign for Statehood?

One of the arguments against statehood for Puerto Rico is that Puerto Rico is too foreign to be a state.

Part of the discussion focuses on the possibility that Puerto Rico is really its own nation.

  • The Associated Press considers its Puerto Rican writers foreign correspondents.
  • Puerto Rico has a team at the Olympics and a Miss Universe contestant.
  • The Gallup World Poll listed Puerto Rico separately from the United States.

These points seem weak because they are weak. You can look at all kinds of details, but the legal definition is the one that actually stands, and legally Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States.

The other part of the discussion, however, is left over from the early days of the 20th century, when the United States questioned whether Puerto Rico should have statehood, because they were .. well, just so darned foreign.

Judge Peter Hamilton wrote to President Woodrow Wilson in 1913, “The mixture of black and white in Porto Rico threatens to create a race of mongrels of no use to anyone:  a race of Spanish-American talkers.” While this sounds bizarre to our modern ears, many of the current commentators on this question are making a similar point, even if they clean it up for modern ears. Concerns that Puerto Rico contains too many Spanish speakers, that Puerto Rico has its own culture which would be endangered by statehood, or that Puerto Rico’s current status is more suitable for its special needs and peculiarities are thinly-veiled objections to the inclusion of such a diverse community in the United States.

There are now more Puerto Ricans living on the mainland than in Puerto Rico. This fact has not thus far threatened the American way of life — nor the Puerto Rican way of life.

For many years, there have been large and successful communities of Puerto Ricans on the mainland in states such as New York, Florida, and New Jersey. But it is also important to look at the Puerto Rican populations in states that are not traditional bastions of Puerto Rican culture:

  • California’s Puerto Rican population is the size of the entire city of Modesto.
  • Massachusetts’s Puerto Rican population is the size of that state’s populous Barnstable County.
  • Pennsylvania’s Puerto Rican population would fill Westmoreland County, PA.
  • Ohio’s Puerto Rican population is the size of Allen County, OH.
  • Wisconsin’s Puerto Rican population is the size of La Crosse, WI.
  • Texas has a Puerto Rican population the size of Wichita County, TX.

We could go on, but the message is clear. Puerto Ricans live in every state of the Union, from Hawaii to North Carolina, and do so without either endangering their local communities or lessening the richness of Puerto Rico’s culture and heritage.  Puerto Rico’s territorial status impacts Americans in all fifty states.

As former President Reagan put it, “In statehood, the language and culture of the island — rich in tradition and history — would be respected, for in the United States the cultures of the world live together with pride.”

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