This blog has taken an international turn due to Puerto Rico's recent decision to join the union as a state last week and my sincere interest in the status of that country. Therefore, "Know Your Rights Tuesdays" will not be featured this week. Rather I will discuss that the vote for statehood happened due to it being the choice with the least loose ends.
When people vote for statehood, they can be safe in knowing exactly what they are going to get. Puerto Rico as a state will get more benefits from the federal government most due to the fact that as a state they would begin to pay federal taxes. Everyone can expect the flag to be remade. We'll have to come up with a new song to remember all 51 states. Statehood, in a sense, solidifies the relationship Puerto Rico already has with the US. Puerto Ricans born on the island are already citizens so statehood just makes the citizenship 'more' official.
The second choice on the ballortwas "sovereign nation that is freely associated with the US." That is a confusing idea in itself. What does it mean? The government officials on the island did not do a good job of explaining what Puerto Rico being a sovereign nation would entail, but it seems like a middle ground between what Puerto Rico has now and independence.
Independence I think has the most loose ends for Puerto Ricans, and that was probably why it got the least amount of votes. The first thing it would probably mean is issues with immigration. Puerto Rico has been in a comfortable state as a Latin American nation where its inhabitants are born with American citizenship and can travel and immigrate freely to the US. Is there going to be a cutoff date going to be for immigration? Do Puerto Ricans born on the island before the official date of independence get to keep both their American and Puerto Rican citizenships? Do they have to choose? Would they even get an option to choose? What about the Puerto Ricans born on the island but raised on the mainland like me? I have a US passport. Does that get revoked and I, and others like me, have forced immigration back to the island? Do we have to reapply for citizenship to the US? Will there be a grace period of immigration where you can choose to stay on the island or leave/ stay in the US or return back to the homeland? What about the American-born children that have island-born parents? Does Puerto Rican nationhood get passed to the children and/or does American citizenship get passed on to the parents? WIll there be a special situation agreed to with the US that makes all these previous questions moot?
None of these questions have been answered by neither the government nor the independence movement itself. You can't expect voters to make an informed decision regarding independence if they do not know all the answers to these important questions that would affect them personally if Puerto Rico's status with the US changes drastically. I had a Costa Rican tell me once that being Puerto Rican is a curious thing. He was right. We are in such a weird state where we are technically a country (we do walk at the Olympics alone), but we have the US always hovering over us affecting what is going on in the island (Ex-Governor Fortuño's austerity measures being a great example). Our history with the US has also affected us culturally. Puerto Rican Spanish is littered with English influence. Reggaeton music evolved from American rap's influence. The same goes for America. There wouldn't be a musical like "West Side Story" if it wasn't for the influx of Puerto Rican migration in the 1950s that changed the dynamics of New York City and influenced Stephen Sondheim to change the race of his characters (Maria was originally supposed to be Jewish).
If the step towards independence is taken, it is going to be a HUGE change for Puerto Rico. It's one I think it should make. I spoke in my earlier post of why Puerto Rican's are afraid of independence and how that was due to the fear of a Cuba-like situation in Puerto Rico. A stronger argument I heard against independence while growing up was that Puerto Rican politics are too corrupt. So to give the entrenched corrupters free reign of the island without a possible escape (to the US) is a legitimate fear for many on the island. If Puerto Rico chooses independence, should entirely new elections be held? Should an entire new system of governance be put in place? Should people who were present in this current system be barred from holding future political office? The questions keep piling up and no one seems to be answering them. There needs to be a massive education effort in Puerto Rico (and the US) to educate everyone about what all the options mean for each party involved. I don't think statehood is going to pass Congress here in the US. So, the newly elected officials need to get cracking on answering all the questions regarding "sovereignty" and "independence" in the most simplest ways possible.