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Richmond Times-Dispatch

Acevedo Vila Discusses Status At Hispanic Celebration

By Jason Wermers

September 21, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Richmond Times-Dispatch. All rights reserved. 

Call it La Escuela del Gobernador para Estudios Gobierno y Estudios Internacional de Maggie L. Walker.

Known in English as the Maggie L. Walker Governor's School for Government and International Studies, the Richmond-based regional school hosted a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month yesterday.

Anibal Acevedo Vila, who holds Puerto Rico's nonvoting congressional seat, and Guatemala native Harris Whitbeck, the Mexico City bureau chief for CNN and CNN en Espaol, were among the featured guests in Walker's auditorium.

The auditorium was filled with juniors and seniors from the Governor's School as well as from Monacan, Tucker and Atlee high schools. Walker freshmen and sophomores were able to watch the assembly on a live video feed throughout the school.

Acevedo Vila spoke at length about Puerto Rico's status as a U.S. commonwealth. He is an advocate for Puerto Rico to remain as it is and not become a state or independent nation.

The freshman congressman, who is a member of the island's Popular Democratic Party, said Puerto Rico had attained a similar status under Spanish rule in 1897, even with a voting member in that country's legislature.

However, when the United States gained Puerto Rico in the Spanish- American War, the American government spent the better part of 40 years trying to "Americanize" its residents. The Puerto Rican flag and other national symbols were banned during that period, he said.

But responding to Puerto Ricans' calls for greater autonomy, the United States allowed Puerto Ricans to ratify a constitution - later approved by Congress - making the island a commonwealth. That status also brings certain benefits with it, including not having to pay federal taxes and the right to make laws without much say from Washington, coupled with U.S. citizenship for all Puerto Ricans.

"Our sense of collective self is more like we are a nation than a minority within a bigger nation," Acevedo Vila said. "But that has not meant support for independence. . . . Puerto Ricans are proud to be U.S. citizens."

Whitbeck described several of his more adventurous assignments. While he spends most of his time in Mexico City, he does travel throughout Latin America to report news.

He has covered, among other things, the Zapatista uprising in the Mexican state of Chiapas in 1994, and the recent presidential instability in Venezuela, during which three presidents came and went within 24 hours.

At Walker, he showed the students a preview of a new series for classrooms, "Hispanos de los Estados Unidos," or "Hispanics of the United States." The series is produced by CNN Student News.

Students also took in a performance by members of the Latin Ballet of Virginia. The event was sponsored by AT&T Broadband.

Walker Spanish teacher Ivette Santiago Childs asked Whitbeck to return and work with her students, and Acevedo Vil to establish a student exchange between Walker and a Puerto Rican school. After the event, she vowed to push for both things to happen.

"They better," she said. "I won't stop until they do."


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