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Xenophobia With A Twist
BY Gene Roman
June 30, 2001
The xenophobia expressed by Republican Congressman Jim Hansen of Utah in his recent comments on Puerto Rico expose the fear and uncertainty that are part of any demagogic appeal to permanently resolve the Islands political status. In Breakthrough from Colonialism, Luis Davila Colon and his co-authors, describe the territorial transition to statehood of California, Louisiana, Arizona, Texas and the remaining states that presently comprise our Nation. Many Congressmen expressed fears and uncertainties similar to Hansens as to how the United States was going to integrate the Spanish and French speaking communities of the aforementioned territories into this new democratic experiment in governance.
Californians and Texans, among others, have demonstrated that cultural integration (notice I did not say assimilation) can co-exist with United States citizenship. Puerto Ricans on the mainland have demonstrated this as well. Consider the following organizations and individuals who speak English and Spanish, and possess constitutionally guaranteed U.S. citizenship: Congressman Luis Guiterrez, Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Massachusetss Association of Hispanic Attorneys, IBA-Puerto Rican Tenants in Action, Western Regiona Puerto Rican Council in the Bay Area, the various Puerto Rican Day Parade committees across the Nation and the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy/Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in NYC.
The argument articulated by Pedro Caban in Give Puerto Rico Its Independence (Newsday, June 15, 2001) that as "proud cultural nationalists" Puerto Ricans are "apprehensive that their culture & language would be threatened by statehood" is a weak one. Mainland Puerto Ricans like Mr. Caban, Guiterrez, Velazquez, myself and thousands of others are living proof that one can be Puerto Rican and first-class United States citizens. Of course, how one chooses to express pride in their cultural heritage will vary according to that individual or organization.
Governor Calderon does not speak for the 46% of Island residents who voted for the better qualified, Dr. Carlos Pesquera, in the last election when she stated that: "We are Puerto Ricans who are U.S. citizens. We are not U.S. citizens who happen to be Puerto Ricans." Even if surveys suggesting that a majority of mainland Puerto Ricans agree with the Governors assessment are correct, what Governor Calderon, Mr. Caban and their cultural nationalistic allies are presenting is a false choice. Those of us on the mainland have proven for over 100 years that one can be Puerto Rican, speak English (like Calderon, Acevedo Vila and others in the PPD & PIP), be properly represented in Congress and vote for President.
Though we lost the war to enact passage of a Congressionally sponsored plebiscite in 1996, we won the battle to expose the hypocrisy of arguments against a permanent resolution to the status question. Many of the self-appointed guardians of Puerto Ricos culture and heritage on the mainland can often barely speak Spanish and their knowledge of the Islands history is limited to various terrorist organizations or the Independence movement. The Congress can certainly unilaterally impose Independence if it so desires, but I believe what is needed is an up and down vote with only two options: Statehood or Independence. It is important that the final resolution of the Islands status problem be kept out of the hands of the ideologues (especially the cultural nationalists) in the various political parties in Puerto Rico.
If the Vieques injustice has reminded us of anything, it is that Congress and the President cannot pass the buck hoping this problem will just go away. Denial is not a river in Egypt.
Gene Roman is a Democratic Party activist in NY and the former Massachusetts Regional Director of the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.