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The San Juan Star

Reader’s Viewpoint

Puerto Rico’s Status Debate Explained For Newcomers

By Edward Cichowicz

July 30, 2002
Copyright © 2002 The San Juan Star. All rights reserved.

I’d like to take this opportunity to explain Puerto Rico’s status debate to those Star readers who are new to the island and are having difficulty sorting out why we Puerto Ricans seem to be so preoccupied with the subject and unable to find an answer.

Just imagine a family who finds this youth living in squalor and decides to take him into their home. (The non-altruistic reasons the family had and the methods by which he was taken do not matter for our story.) They nurture him slowly to adolescence, in many respects as if he were another of their own 50 sons and daughters, with the following exception – because he is not "blood family", he has no say in establishing the household rules made by his step parents – even though these he must unwaveringly obey. To make up for this "discrimination", the family grants him the following (partial) privileges important to an adolescent: (1) use of the family car (although it is not permissible for him to drive any neighbor’s cars, even though they give better gas mileage), (2) free food, (3) a significant allowance (although a fraction of what the family kids get), (4) free boarding – although this privilege is a constant sore point to his 50 siblings, who are all required by their parents to work and help pay the rent, and (5) he is not required to use the family surname when participating in certain community functions, such as sports events and beauty pageants, because it seems only appropriate that, at times, he be allowed to express his own cultural heritage and language.

All his adolescent life he is, for the most part, eternally grateful to his step parents, but has been recently showing the typical emotional signs of adolescent identity confusion (although some siblings call it manic depression). One day he is all love and kisses with his step parents, but the next day he screams at them to get out of his room, and the next day he pleads with them to finally sign the official adoption papers, making him one of the "real" children.

The parents are very confused, because it has been more than 50 years since they raised an adolescent, and this one in particular does not seem to know exactly what he wants – it seems the more he studies every year, the less sure he is of his career choice. He has, in fact, become a professional student, living off his step-parents, and although their patience sometimes come to a boiling point, they never have mustered up enough courage to force him to choose one way or the other – either he leaves the house, goes out on his own and finds a job, or stays home under their roof, but under obligation to pay rent, and give up all his special privileges. It is as though they seem to fear his final decision will not be to their other children’s liking, and then an even bigger headache will be served – and so step-parents and step-child dance the seemingly eternal millennium waltz.

Of course, you all realize by now who these characters portray. The relationship in Spanish is signified by the letters E.L.A. – Estado Libre Adolescente.

Edward Cichowicz
San Juan

P.S. In an interesting post-script, our "old" adolescent now seems to be thinking that his step-parents actually "owe him" the right to live at home, yet be able to make his own individual decisions about certain economic matters that are in his "best interest." He calls this "enhanced adolescence". Actually, a national hotel chain apparently found it amusing to feature our adolescent and his step parents in a series of commercials based on this "enhanced adolescence" concept, and they episodically air on cable TV. You know the one where the step-parents laugh and say, "What do you think this is – a Holiday Inn?"

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