Puerto Rico and the Inauguration

On January 20, 2021, America celebrated the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice President, respectively, of the United States. This year’s inauguration was different from the usual, since the United States is still experiencing a coronavirus pandemic and Washington is responding to the riot in the Capitol building on January 6.

Americans were asked to stay home and experience the historic event virtually instead of coming to the capitol. There are usually 1600 seats on the platform for Congress and other dignitaries, but that number was cut to 400 for 2021.

The inauguration

The 2021 inauguration was live-streamed on YouTube and by the New York Times. There was also a special livestream for kids. All of these livestream shows can be watched as recordings now. Each one includes a different set of additional information. The kids’ version may be the most educational.

The program began at 11:00 with the Pledge of Allegiance and Amanda Gorman, the first National Youth Poet Laureate, reading a poem called “The Hill We Climb.”

Kamala Harris was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at 11:55, and Joe Biden was sworn in at noon. President Biden made his inaugural address.

A number of ceremonies took place and the event went on until 10:00 p.m.

Does Puerto Rico have a place in the celebration?

Puerto Rico, as a territory of the United States, does not have any participation in presidential elections, but Joe Biden is President of Puerto Rico as well as the President of all the States in the United States.

Puerto Rico was also represented at the inauguration:

  • 140 soldiers from the National Guard of Puerto Rico took part in the security measures at the capitol.
  • 56 pillars of light were placed in the Field of Flags exhibit: one for each state, one for each territory, and one for the District of Columbia.
  • Puerto Rican designer Wilfredo Rosado created the special pearl necklace Harris wore.
  • Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s parents came from Puerto Rico. She swore in the Vice President.
  • Performers from  Puerto Rico included Royalty Winterguard, Centenaria Banda Colegial University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez, Latin Power Dance & Arts, and Banda Macaná de Guayanilla. This is the first time that every state and territory has been represented among the performers at an inauguration celebration.
  • Jennifer Lopez was also among the performers, singing an arrangement of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and Katharine Lee Bates’s “America the Beautiful.” She also spoke the final phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish. Lopez’s parents came from Puerto Rico.

 

There are undoubtedly many more connections. There are many people of Puerto Rican heritage attending and enjoying the inauguration virtually.

Discussion questions for educators

  • What was the theme of the inauguration? Watch the videos in this post and ask students to determine the theme of the program. Ask older students to listen to President Biden’s speech to confirm their answer. Challenge students to write an essay giving their opinion on why this theme might have been the choice for 2021. (Answer: unity or brotherhood)
  • Did the decisions to include the territories as well as the States in some ways that haven’t been done before support the theme of the ceremony? Ask older students, if Puerto Rico continues to be treated differently from the States, will the speeches, songs, and visual choices be less important when we look back on the inauguration in the future?
  • Have students read the Gorman poem and the words of the Guthrie and Bates songs (or the included verse of the Bates song). Create a list of words from these poems that tell us about diversity, unity, and brotherhood. Discuss the poetry, including the students’ favorite parts.
  • Have students read the transcript of President Biden’s speech. Did he use any of the words or phrases you identified in the poetry? How was his speech different from the poems. Discuss the difference between prose and poetry, or between the language in poems, songs, and speeches, all of which are often public speech acts.
  • In light of the message presented in the inauguration ceremony, would you expect that Puerto Rico will be admitted as a state by this administration? Ask students their opinions, and challenge them to support their answers ti this question with facts.

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