Why the Americans of Puerto Rico Want and Deserve Citizenship Equality
Here at La Chuleta Congelá’, we believe that there is but a one-way street for Puerto Rican self-determination and citizenship equality: a statehood-versus-independence plebiscite.
The Enemies of Equality in Puerto Rico must choose what it is they want as a perpetually sovereign form of government with full citizenship for the American citizens of Puerto Rico. No more can the unequal status quo be offered—enhanced or otherwise. Call it colonial or territorial; it is not equal.
The Puerto Rican people have made it clear that this is about citizenship—more specifically American citizenship. Overwhelmingly, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans consider American citizenship uncompromisable in any final status solution. The political status issue of Puerto Rico is a multiple-choice-, not an essay question.
The essay question is the citizenship question, which Puerto Ricans have been filling out in blood for over a century in the name of American values. “Every good citizen makes his country’s honor his own,” said Andrew Jackson, “and cherishes it not only as precious but as sacred. He is willing to risk his life in its defence and is conscious that he gains protection while he gives it.”
There should be no doubt as to the sacrifice the Puerto Rican people have endured in the name of the United States of America, and, yes, the territories, and their American citizenship. The United States invaded in 1898; in 1899, the “Porto Rico Regiment” was formed. The 65th Infantry Regiment (The Borinqueneers) went on to fight valiantly and honorably from World War I and World War II to Korea and Vietnam. Puerto Ricans stood side-by-side with the U.S. throughout the Cold War with no conflict, no rebellion, no Communism, just adherence to the Borinqueneer motto Honor et Fidelitas.
Moreover, the Puerto Rican devotion for America, for Puerto Rico, has led them into every modern conflict including the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War, and the Iraq War. Puerto Ricans have fought with other Americans from all states for over a century, concurrently enjoying but the morsel of second-class citizenship.
Those who propose Puerto Rico is not good enough to join the union of American states as equal partners in the democratic endeavor our founders began, refuse to see the overwhelmingly positive evidence because it frustrates their notion of what America or Puerto Rico is supposed to be and look like, but they ignore reality and deprive themselves of the very spirit on which this great experiment of self-government was founded. Those principles are spelled out in our founding documents. The U.S. Constitution (our highest legal authority) and our Declaration of Independence (our highest moral authority) give us our soul and conscience.
“We the People of the United States,” begins our soul as written in the Constitution, “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
Such is the structure of our soul’s constitution; this is who Americans set out to be. The constructs of American citizenship are but the precious residue of the sweat, blood, tears, and treasury spent over the years by a great people whose conscience encapsulates that highest of American values: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
While the America of the Founding Fathers did exhibit a lack of moral fortitude when it came to the true equality of American citizenship, no one can deny that their own vision of “a more perfect union” was meant as a guiding light for future generations of Americans who could—and would—correct past wrongs. “The best principles of our republic secure to all its citizens a perfect equality of rights,” believed Thomas Jefferson and it is in this spirit that all Americans should answer Puerto Rico’s plight.
American citizenship is not about language, or ethnicity, or economics, or even local culture (none of them found anywhere in the founding documents) though these elements of culture have peripherally affected Americans’ perception of their citizenship throughout our history. American citizenship is defined by the overarching popular principles on which this country was actually founded: collective Union, -Justice, -Tranquility, -Defense, -Welfare, and -Liberty. Necessarily, the blessings of American government are sustained by the mantra that ALL are equal in their allotment.
“And for the support of this Declaration,” stated the Founders as they closed their democratic proclamation, “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”
The four million American citizens of Puerto Rico have been deprived of their natural rights to self-determination. The nature of said rights is undisputable, and their insistence to end their 500 years of subservient government is but a Puerto Rican expression of the American values they have consecrated. To trick the Americans of Puerto Rico with political obstruction and to put before them “options” that amount to enhanced colonialism is to trick our founders and our founding principles and to cheat future generations out of the achievements of a more perfect union.
The Declaration of Independence speaks to what it means to be an American, but it also speaks of what Americans must do to rid themselves of bad governance:
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
The “Commonwealth” system of government in Puerto Rico is an evil government that Puerto Ricans were tricked into back in 1952, but one they are no longer disposed to suffer. And while none of their tools for deposing this government will be in the arsenal of war, the tools that Puerto Ricans have at their disposal will prove much more morally assertive. As Mark Twain believed, “Citizenship is what makes a republic; monarchies can get along without it.”
It is time Puerto Ricans make a decision on a permanent, sovereign status option. They can choose to construct their own version of citizenship, or they can continue to expand the long course charted thus far, but what they cannot do is keep a majority of their American brothers and sisters bound to a colonial model of governance that only yields ambivalence and uncertainty from cradle to grave.
The overwhelmingly vast majority of Americans in Puerto Rico want a permanent, non-territorial status solution that protects their century-old effort in the name of American citizenship.
Puerto Ricans have earned that much.