Puerto Rico’s Colonial Heritage

In Puerto Rico, Thanksgiving Day is observed with a lavish turkey dinner. Just as that turkey is served with different flavors and side dishes in Connecticut and Georgia, a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving includes special elements like plantains and rice with pigeon peas.

But Thanksgiving is one of the few times each year when people throughout the States think broadly about the Colonial heritage of the United States. Images of Pilgrims — British colonists in New England — can be seen in states that were colonies of France and Spain. They show up in areas that were never colonies at all. Yet the images symbolize American traditions and the bravery of those early colonists.

Americans, even if they’re eating their turkey from dishes decorated with pictures of British colonists, don’t usually think about the hardships and limitations of living in a colony.

Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain for 400 years. The Island made attempts to gain independence, and was able to achieve some degree of autonomy, but Spain still owned Puerto Rico in 1898, when it gave Puerto Rico to the United States after the Spanish American War.

Puerto Rico then became a territory of the United States, again with some degree of autonomy, but belonging to the United States. Puerto Rico is still a territory of the United States today. The people of Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections and do not have voting representatives in the U.S. Congress.

In 2012, 54% of voters said that they did not want to continue as a territory of the United States. In 2012 and again in 2017, Puerto Rico’s voters chose statehood over the other possible political statuses. In January, 2018, Puerto Rico formally requested statehood.

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