I don’t speak Spanish, but I know that means “welcome.”
from: Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish
by Pablo Cartaya
Viking/Penguin Random House, 2018
The summer before eighth grade, I played clarinet in a community orchestra in our local summer stock venue, Cain Park. Medium-named stars played lead roles in hit shows. That year we put on Gypsy, Bye-Bye Birdie, and West Side Story. I don’t remember who held the leads in the other two, but Tony Dow, Beaver Cleaver’s big brother in Leave it to Beaver, played Tony in West Side Story.
I had the clarinet solo for Maria’s song, “I Feel Pretty.”
The play is about a girl and a boy who meet at a dance and fall in love, but Maria is from the “wrong side of the tracks.” Big fights break out and Tony is killed. Prejudice, honor, and the importance of family loyalty are some issues dramatized. Poverty, juvenile delinquency, and the devastating influence of gangs are some others.
The Jets were American. The Sharks were Puerto Rican. About all I knew about Puerto Rico in those growing-up days came from that play. That might have been pretty much all anyone knew, unless, of course, you were Puerto Rican.
The play’s setting is the 1950s, a time of American pride. We had, after all, recently won World War II and lots of former servicemen and women were, rightly, receiving lots of honor.
Puerto Rico is a small island east-southeast of Haiti/Dominican Republic with a population of a little over 3.5 million.
In 1898, at the end of the Spanish-American war, Spain ceded Puerto Rico to the United States under the Treaty of Paris. Nineteen years later, In 1917, the Jones-Shafroth Act made all Puerto Ricans American citizens.
A free election by the people has been held to select their governor since 1948, when the United States government stopped appointing one.
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. That means the island is controlled by the Federal government and Congress. Puerto Ricans are American citizens by birth, but they can’t vote in presidential elections and lack voting representation in Congress. A little local control, some Constitutional rights, non-voting but legal status for citizens. An ambiguous position, to be sure.
Puerto Ricans don’t pay Federal Income Tax, but they do pay payroll taxes, social security taxes, business taxes, gift taxes, estate taxes, you get it, to the Federal Government.
So what do they get for their tax money? Well, not FEMA money when Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. The island is still reeling from the devastation she wrought.
The government has been in turmoil since July 13, 2019. Two high ranking members of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration were indicted on federal charges last week. They are accused of diverting over fifteen million dollars worth of work contracts to unqualified, politically connected businesses.
Gov. Ricardo Rosselló recently announced his resignation amid a barrage of published emails and chats. The ensuing outrage, protests, demonstrations. . . along with the outrage, protests, and demonstrations about the corruption ruined Rosselló’s government.
His resignation will take effect this Friday (August 2, 2019).
Next in line is Justice Secretary Wanda Vazquez. It would have been Secretary of State Luis Rivera Marin, but he resigned as part of the email and chat scandal. But Vazquez, who inspires little public confidence and was investigated last year for ethical violations, said she does not want the top job.
Gov. Rosselló is looking for his own replacement. Anyone he appoints will likely stay in office until elections for a new governor in 2020.
According to a Gallup Poll survey, in 2017, ninety-seven percent of Puerto Ricans favor statehood. https://news.gallup.com/poll/260744/americans-continue-support-puerto-rico-statehood.aspx
Now and then, a pro-statehood faction rises up, and about as often one that promotes self-determination. Some Puerto Ricans claim satisfaction with the status quo. The three main political parties each promotes one or the other of these positions.
Most U. S. Presidents have supported statehood, if the majority of Puerto Ricans are also in favor. But not the current one.
Why does all this matter?
If Puerto Rico became a state, the people would be eligible for Federal programs like Food Stamps for disaster victims. Statehood would help modernize the economy, and help the mainland, too. Instead of needing to form their own various trade agreements, alliances, and treaties to stimulate their economy, the island could immediately use the ones already in place for the Fifty States.
Puerto Ricans would gain full representation in Congress if they could choose two Senators with the same voting rights allowed to the rest of the States. The citizens would be allowed to vote in all elections, including the ones affecting them and their island.
But Statehood would change the overall structure of Congress. One hundred and two senators will look different from the 100 now seated. The House of Representatives would need to be reconfigured, realigned to accommodate the five seats allotted to Puerto Rico, based on their population and under the current format, without going over the maximum 435 members.
If Puerto Rico joined the Union, they would receive seven electoral votes, which would change the make-up of the Electoral College.
Puerto Ricans would not be allowed to compete under their own flag in either the Olympics or the Miss Universe pageant. They do now.
Statehood would change the way crime and poverty statistics are reported. Puerto would hold last place in both categories. Is this good or bad?
The island is in dire financial straights, much still caused by Maria. Statehood would mean the United States would absorb that significant debt.
But first, Puerto Ricans must take care of themselves. A stable government elected by the people, continued disaster relief that is not diverted by selfish and greedy politicians, and a better understanding of the people and their challenges will make everyone want to sing “I Feel Pretty.”
-—stay curious! (and informed)