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DAYTON DAILY NEWS
'None of the Above' December Vote Not Islands Away
for Area Natives of Puerto Rico
by Kay Semion
January 26, 1999
©Copyright 1999 Dayton Daily News
Election results may point to the future
There is no Dayton Cultural Society of Puerto Rico , but if there
were one, Luis Vega-Ramos joked that he'd join it. The proponent
for Puerto Rican nationhood was part of a Saturday seminar at
the University of Dayton sponsored by the Puerto Rican Cultural
Society of Dayton.
Why, you might wonder in reverse, does Dayton have a Puerto Rican
society? The group represents a surprisingly large number of Dayton-
area residents - between 1,500 and 2,500 - who are Puerto Rico
Many others have ties to the Caribbean island that belongs - sort
of - to the United States.
The first Puerto Ricans arrived in this area about 1953, says
Hector F. Santiago, one of the society's founders. By 1978, when
the society was formed, hundreds more had come here, many to work
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and high-tech companies. The
Puerto Rico ties are so strong the University of Dayton operates
a prep school there.
So Saturday's seminar on the future of Puerto Rico was not only
about the island's future but also about why Dayton should care.
Another interesting parallel: As Ohio approached the 19th century,
pro- statehood factions were pushing to join the union. Statehood
was attained in 1803 over the objection of its territorial governor
because pro- statehood factions enlisted the support of President
Thomas Jefferson. Today, as we approach the 21st century, and
in contrast, Puerto Rica's pro- statehood Gov. Pedro Rossello
is courting Congress and the Clinton administration on behalf
of his cause.
But I'm getting ahead of the point of the seminar, which in some
ways simulated the island's election last month. Voters were asked
to choose among four options in an effort to spur Congress to
change the nature of the relationship between the United States
and Puerto Rico . The island, taken over by the United States
100 years ago after the Spanish-American War, was not given independence
but given a status somewhere between a colony and a state. Designated
as a commonwealth, it became a government on the way to becoming
something else, as UD's Dr. Bruce Hitchner noted.
But what exactly? Puerto Ricans are still looking for a definition,
a frustrating process not only for those who live on the island
but also for those watching it from Dayton.
In the December election, 50.2 percent of Puerto Rican voters
chose "None of the Above" over four other options. Rejected
were statehood , independence, continued commonwealth status and
"free association" (similar to independence but retaining
some benefits of ties to the United States).
The full meaning of the election is still being sorted out, but
because of the seminar I have a better perspective on why voters
said `None of the Above.'
Besides Vega-Ramos, whose organization favored free association,
Saturday's players included Jose A. Ortiz-Daliot, who argued for
commonwealth status ; Xavier Romeu, who favored statehood ; and
Juan Alcaide, a longtime advocate of independence.
After a morning session, which provided historical perspectives
- the best coming from UD professor Juan Carlos Santamarina -
I suspended reality and made believe I might be a Puerto Rican
voter. I, too, would have chosen `None of the Above.'
Why? None of the choices offered on December's ballot represented
improvements on the status quo. Arguments seemed to be rooted
in the past - often appearing stale by the lack of relevance to
the world we live in. Today we have increased globalization of
not only trade but also of ideas and how and where we live. State
boundaries are becoming less distinct as national and international
ties grow more dominant. One speaker questioned if the U.S. Congress
would accept Puerto Rico only if Puerto Ricans looked and acted
more like mainlanders. But the truth is, demographics hint that
the mainland may be growing to look more like Puerto Rico , which
includes a mix of cultures, many based on Hispanic heritage.
Going in (es decir, "at the beginning"), I thought I
would have picked statehood . But that choice wasn't as clear-cut
(significa CLARISIMA) as it appeared. Limitations had been imposed
by Congress. And more troubling, pro- statehood Gov. Rossello
had spent more time building consensus in Washington than in San
Imposing statehood by political maneuvering might have worked
in the 19th century, as happened in Ohio. But today's voters in
Puerto Rico are sophisticated. It's essential to first build consensus
at home before Puerto Rico can move ahead.
Were any of the Puerto Ricans on Saturday's panel ready to lead
the island government forward? That question was asked by longtime
Dayton resident Dolores Quinones, who was born in Puerto Rico
Answers seemed to be based more on what had been rather than what
might be. Selecting `None of the Above' could have been the only
way for Puerto Rican voters to say: We're looking for new leadership.
None of the choices offered on December's ballot represented
improvements on the status quo.
* KAY SEMION is associate editor of the Dayton Daily News editorial
pages. She may be reached at 225-2383 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org