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Talking about Puerto Rico’s Status

Al Jazeera’s The Stream hosted a lively discussion on the status of Puerto Rico last week. “Should Puerto Rico become the 51st state?” was the question, and many people on the island and on the mainland weighed in.

Al Jazeera made valiant efforts to find good tweets and videos for all possible positions on the controversy, including videos of Reagan, Pierluisi, the documentary The Last Colony, and homemade political videos, among others.

Comments got emotional, with positions ranging from “GIVE US OUR FREEDOM, either as EQUALS among the American Family or, as EQUALS among the Family of Nations of the world” to “The Palestine of the Caribbean!”

Branch had a conversation, too, in preparation for the Al Jazeera stream:

We ask: “Could Puerto Rico once and for all become the 51st state? Its status as a Commonwealth has sparked considerable political debate for more than 100 years. Historically, the main conflict has been between those who want independence, those who favor the current status, and those who advocate statehood. While Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, they cannot vote in presidential elections and lack votes in Congress. With its people culturally united but politically divided, what is the best way forward? What do you think?”

While most of the people posting at Branch favored statehood, the discussion was civil and shows serious thought about the issue.

Questions about the process as it has unfolded since the plebiscite and the issues that are keeping resolution from taking place dominated the conversation at Branch, though there was also some discussion about the benefits of statehood:

Statehood can help in a number of ways: political clout in Washington to help address the financial mess, increased additional funding in programs like Medicare which are huge liabilities for the local government, which could then either lower taxes since the federal government would use the same formula of contribution as it does with the states instead of just 50%, or use that money for other programs, either way a potential way to jumpstart the economy.– William-Jose Velez

There were also expressions of concern about cultural identity:

While doing the documentary I found that those Puerto Ricans who oppose statehood talk about the disappearance of the Puerto Rican identity. I think it is a legitimate question that deserves an honest answer from Congress and the President and the American people. Can Puerto Rico become a state and not assimilate to the United States? Is assimilation a requirement for statehood? What exactly would assimilation entail for those that live in the Island if it became a state? If Congress or the President gave a clear answer to this question, I think it would help reduce the speculation that surrounds the meaning of becoming a state. — Juan Agustín Márquez

While the responses indicated confidence that Puerto Rican identity is strong enough — and the United States diverse enough — that this will not be problematic, it is worth acknowledging this concern.  Between the mass migration of Puerto Ricans to states and the influx and national chain stores and restaurants to Puerto Rico, the notion of what any new type of assimilation could possibly entail is a difficult question to answer.  Historically, there had been a concern about losing the Spanish language in Puerto Rico, but in 2013 the push is now for bilingualism across the country – including increased use of Spanish – as a component of opportunity.

The discussion didn’t lead to consensus at either location, which is no surprise. The Senate Hearings on the subject made it clear that Puerto Rico’s leadership is unable to agree on the best resolution for Puerto Rico’s status and — while 61% of votes in the plebiscite favored statehood — it is unlikely that all Puerto Ricans will take identical positions on the issue either.

William-Jose Velez made a point at Branch that is worth repeating:

The problem now is that they are taking what Puerto Rico wants to the extent of wanting consensus, and then using that as an excuse to not act.

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