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March 7, 2003
Copyright © 2003 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

American Citizenship: A "Determining Factor" Or A Political Football?

On a recent Sunday, a crowd of mostly New Progressive Party (NPP) leaders and devotees gathered in front of the Capitol Building in San Juan to recognize the 86th anniversary of the promulgation of the "Jones Act," granting United States citizenship to all who wished to accept it at the time and to all born on the island after March 2, 1917.

The Capitol rally quickly turned into a partisan duel between the supporters of the two top NPP challengers to incumbent Popular Democratic Party (PDP) Governor, Sila Calderon, in the next election in 2004 -- Carlos Pesquera, the current NPP party president, and Pedro Rossello, the former NPP governor who will soon return to the island from a teaching post in Washington to compete for the chance to return to La Forteleza for a third term.

Previous public acts of recognition of the U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans have become political platforms for islanders favoring U.S. statehood. Traditionally absent from commemorations of American citizenship are members of the PDP or the Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP). In short, March 2nd has become an icon for one of the three Puerto Rican political status positions, namely statehood. Thoughtful expositions of the rights and privileges bestowed by American citizenship rarely find a place amongst the songs, cheers and political bombast of NPP party politics. Almost always lost is the real significance of the date.

Underlying the NPP view is that U.S. Citizenship is incomplete for Puerto Ricans. Islanders do not enjoy the voting rights of fellow citizens in the fifty states and have no voting representation in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Only by the acquisition of statehood, the NPP argues, can all Puerto Ricans become full American citizens. Until that happens, they perceive themselves to be residents of a "colony" and "second-class" American citizens.

On the other hand, the PDP is cautious at the mention of American citizenship in its party platforms and appeal to voters. Underlying this attitude is its projection of the concept of "de facto" duel citizenship. Puerto Rico, by this assessment is not an unincorporated territory of the United States (its official designation under the U.S. Constitution) but a "nation." As such, Puerto Ricans are "citizens" of both Puerto Rico and the United States. The PDP mantra of "the best of two worlds" requires two lexicons for their rhetoric; one spoken in Spanish to the Puerto Rican electorate and the other in English to officials in Washington. The PDP’s current spokesperson, Governor Sila Calderon, has spent considerable energy during her two years in office attempting to articulate this unique concept of national sovereignty.

The Puerto Rico Independence Party (PIP) rarely recognizes the existence of U.S. citizenship in public, preferring to denigrate it in comparison to what they describe as the "authentic" civil state of all on the island, that of being "Puerto Rican Nationals." When it comes to their definition of what they see as an independent Puerto Rico of the future, however, they insist on the right of Puerto Ricans in the new nation to retain their American citizenship.

Opinion polls have shown that, individually, most Puerto Ricans, like most Americans generally, take their U.S. citizenship for granted and think very little about it. They enthusiastically support their local political system by a proportionally higher voter turnout than those on the mainland; they live, study and travel back and forth between the island and mainland without the need for a passport; and, as they compare themselves to other Latin American populations, feel fortunate to be a part of a vigorous and prosperous U.S. economy.

The preamble of the Puerto Rico Constitution of 1952 states, "We consider as a determining factor in our life our citizenship of the United States of America …"

Today’s Herald Poll inquires as to how it is a "determining factor" for individual readers. Poll participants are asked to consider four aspects of American citizenship and choose the one that they consider to be the most important. For those believing that some other aspect is more important than those offered, an email address is provided for your response.

This Week's Question:
What aspect of American Citizenship is for you the most important "determining factor"?

US . Residents
. PR
Constitutional protection & guarantees 30%
10% Legal access to the United States 22%
14% Economic Opportunities 19%
18% Long-term political stability 29%


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