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The Important Matter Of Primary Allegiance

By Garry Hoyt

March 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

It seems a reasonable premise to expect that citizens of any nation should owe primary allegiance to that nation. In the U.S., we recite a pledge to that effect: "I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic, for which it stands, one Nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

That pledge, so familiar to the majority of Americans, is almost totally unfamiliar to the majority of Puerto Ricans. Reciting that pledge is part of the everyday routine in many U.S. schools, but that practice has for many years been eliminated from schools in P.R. In addition to the fact that Puerto Rican school children don’t know the pledge, there is the awkward truth that most lack enough English proficiency to speak or understand the words. Beyond that, many of the current political leaders would be unwilling to endorse or allow the "Pledge of Allegiance to America", and their disdain extends to the other revered symbols of American patriotism–the U.S. flag and anthem, which on the island are consistently ignored or subordinated to the Puerto Rican flag and anthem. If you ever had the temerity to try to lead a chorus of "God Bless America" in the P.R. Senate, you would probably end up singing solo, midst scattered boos.

"How can this be?" you might ask. "Aren’t Puerto Ricans citizens of the U.S., and aren’t these the same island politicians that annually come to Washington, hat in hand, to ask for more U.S. taxpayer money for P.R.?" Well yes, but you have to understand that for many leaders on the island, primary loyalty goes to P.R. and U.S. citizenship is treated more as an economic convenience than an emotional commitment. This dichotomy is the clear result of Commonwealth’s structural ambivalence, plus Congressional indifference, a combination which continues to encourage non American citizens.

Of course it is neither fair nor accurate to lump all Puerto Ricans in this non American category. First and foremost, there are many islanders who have honorably served in the U.S. Armed Forces and sometimes died in various wars. The loyalty and patriotism of this group is beyond question. Islanders continue to volunteer for military service in percentage numbers higher than many other sectors of the U.S. populace, and many other Puerto Ricans who feel a strong loyalty to the U.S join them. Unfortunately, they are matched by an equally large group on the island who does not feel that way, but are quite willing to hide behind the loyalty of those that do whenever the question arises. They use the honorable military service of Puerto Rican Americans as a screen to mask their own distinctly non American sentiments.

This is not as simple as one group being right and the other being wrong. Feeling primary allegiance to P.R. is not a crime, and many would view it as entirely natural. The problem is the pretense, the hypocrisy, and the expectancy that the U.S. taxpayer should finance the whole charade.

The Pledge of Allegiance is not a litmus test of patriotism and reciting it will not necessarily make one a better person or better American. But these rituals, like saluting the stars and stripes, and singing the national anthem, have a useful, symbolic role in uniting the citizenry with a shared sense of patriotic purpose, particularly in times of crisis.

If large numbers of Puerto Ricans, backed by the local government, continue to shun these American symbols, along with not paying U.S taxes, not participating in U.S. elections, and not speaking English, then the rest of America, who annually sends almost $17 billion dollars to P.R., has a right to ask, "What kind of citizens are these?"

The most powerful nation in the world, with millions clamoring at its gates, does not need and should not finance, a deviant strain of U.S. citizen, whose primary allegiance is not to America. Puerto Rico has a right to seek its own independent destiny, but the privilege of American citizenship has a right to expect primary allegiance to America–and you can’t have it both ways.

Garry Hoyt lived and worked in Puerto Rico from 1955 until 1980. He resides in Rhode Island.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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