American history textbooks used in classrooms on the mainland often distill Puerto Rico’s history and relationship with the United States into a sentence or two at the end of a section on the Spanish American War. “The United States took Puerto Rico as a territory,” is the rundown in Joy Hakim’s A History of US.
It’s different in Puerto Rico’s schools. With the recent Supreme Court decisions and PROMESA, Alex Figueroa Cancel wrote in El Nuevo Dia, “The official version of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (ELA), taught for 64 years in the classroom, was rewritten in just a few weeks during the summer holidays.”
The decisions made reflect the legal relationship of Puerto Rico and the United States: namely, that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, subject to the territorial clause of the U.S. Constitution. The events of the summer have confirmed this fact, rather than making changes to this relationship.
But that’s not what has been taught in history classes in Puerto Rico. Alex Figueroa Cancel cites Puerto Rico, Five Centuries of History, by Francisco Scarano. In its lesson on Puerto Rico’s adoption of its constitution, the popular textbook says that “the territory achieved an autonomous, not dependent, status.”
The article also quotes Angel Rodriguez, a history teacher.
“[T]here is what is known as the official story, which is what the government tells itself and is found in official texts, which are those used in schools,” Rodriguez said.”In the official account, the ELA 1952 is the culmination of achieving self-government, with our own constitution, allowing us to manage our internal affairs… The school definition of a constitution is the highest, fundamental law of a country and supposedly above that there is nothing. We knew that this was not the case for us, but we gave ourselves the luxury of the appearance of our Constitution. Now, clearly and openly, it has been proclaimed by the United States that ‘Look, no, it is not true that Puerto Rico acquired the right to govern themselves in ’52.’ So there must be a revision of teaching of all that story.”
The good news is that a more accurate presentation of the status of Puerto Rico may give the people of Puerto Rico better preparation for action on that status. As long as it is generally believed on the Island that “Commonwealth status” is a special autonomous status, different from that held by other U.S. territories, it may be difficult to achieve a permanent non-colonial status.
The “luxury” of decision making under a fictional view of the status of the Island has not been beneficial to Puerto Rico.