American and Puerto Rican Flags

A friend asked:

“Which do you think is the best course of action for the long-term health of Puerto Rico: maintaining the status quo, becoming a U.S. State, or declaring independence from the United States?”

This has long been the single most difficult question possible for Puerto Ricans, whether on La Isla or the Mainland…

As a people, we suffer from a shared identity crisis. Our feelings about being “Americano” are mixed because of how we became such. As most 'Yankees' know little of Puerto Rican status, in order to understand that dilemma you must know at least a little about our history.

This is a link to the Wiki history of Puerto Rico, but here are the most relevant details:

Spain had just granted autonomy when the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico under the made up pretext that was the Sinking of the battleship Maine, which marked the start of the Spanish American War. At hostilities end, Puerto Rico along with Cuba and the Philippines became spoils. The U.S. allowed Cuba independence but kept the Philippines and Puerto Rico as colonies. While the Philippines were later freed, Puerto Rico remains a U.S. Territory to this day.

Citizenship was granted as a way of legalizing the draft so that Puerto Ricans could be sent to the trenches in WWI. The years between the wars were filled with abject poverty, poor education and racism against Puerto Ricans by the ruling class of gringos in our own land.

After WWII things began to change and an accommodation was created. Eventually a program called Operation Bootstrap brought mainland industry, lured by cheap labor and no taxes. On one hand this was just another form of exploitation, on the other, new infrastructure was created to support the industries. Roads, bridges, schools were now a small taste of material wealth. But the jobs were insufficient for the population, so a system of labor that incentivized migration to the mainland for work as migrant laborers on the farms of upstate New York and the factories of NYC started the Rican diaspora.

I am a child of that migration. Growing up I had a steady diet of two opposing yet congruent situations. On one hand I learned all about American history, democracy, equality and freedom. On the other I experienced daily racism, watched friends and families regularly reminded that those ideals only applied to anglo-protestants and not niggers&spics, a term that for much of my youth I believed to be a single word, because that is how ‘they’ always used it against us.

By the time I was a teenager I was convinced the only solution was total independence from a nation that had conquered us by force of arms, held us as indentured laborers, forced us out of our own country and sent dirty industry not wanted elsewhere. So I joined the Young Lords Party (a Puerto Rican version of the Black Panther Party) and stood my watch at the barricades.

As years passed I learned more. I realized the words of the Constitution were not wrong, but the racist assholes who treated us as less-than, were. That the ideals were for everyone, but the right to them was a struggle that every group newly arrived on these shores had to endure, even if we had never crossed the border but the U.S. border had actually moved over our entire country. That the history of Puerto Ricans and our contributions to US society had earned us the right to be full citizens, able to expect the same as any and all others.

I have since embraced my “American-ness” and fought against all who would deny it. I participated in many of the anti-Vietnam demonstrations. I stood with the Black Panthers when the police were murdering them and Young Lords. I was with NOW at the very first NOW march for women’s rights. I was at the very first gay pride parade. I have viewed my American status as that of the class of laborers who have had to scratch and claw for rights to make work safe and secure. I have watched as far too many have tried to turn back that movement toward progress for ALL people and done what I could and the little I still can, to ensure those who would revert this country back to racism, exploitation, poverty and oppression are defeated and exposed as they being the ones who are un-American.

Now back to the original question; I have to say I must defer to those whose parents were not forced from the Island and those who chose to return, of which I have family in both categories. Those who have to make their lives on a piece of land 100 miles long by 60 wide, presently dependent on many different Federal Programs, with almost no natural resources other than some nickel and copper, little in the way of material wealth, no possibility of a viable self-defense and a population so divided on this very question that either answer is likely to bring a violent reaction. Regardless, with the economic crisis in Puerto Rico, it seems the question is one that must finally be confronted. Hurricane Maria and how it was handled by the Trump regime, makes this a critical issue. 

I love mi gente. I love La Isla where my ancestors once lived under swaying palms on beautiful beaches, in a place that according to Cristobal Colon was as close to paradise as a living man will ever know. But although I have lived there and visited often, I am a born New Yorker. I am an American and I would not trade that citizenship for anything. So at this point if one day there be a 51st star on Old Glory and it represents La Isla Del Encanto, I would salute it proudly.

BUT I could NEVER blame my brothers and sisters for wanting independence and doing what was necessary to make it happen.   

Que Viva Puerto Rico!

As an FYI: The United Nations long ago declared the Island a colony and currently supports 'self-determination', code for independence...

Jose A Rosa

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