Puerto Rico Vote Sends an Important Message

By Samuel Francis
Published in The Social Contract
Volume 9, Number 2 (Winter 1998-1999)
Issue theme: "Secure identification and immigration enforcement"

A tip of the hat to the good folk of Puerto Rico, who in contrast to the idiots who run the Republican Party, have the sense to understand that their island, its culture, its language and its people should not be a state of the United States. Americans ought to pay attention to what their vote against statehood last week tells us, because it carries a message many Americans (not least Republicans) need to hear.

Last year, the leaders of the GOP conceived the idea that a good way to reach Hispanic voters, who are increasingly tending to vote Democratic, would be to pass a bill that allowed Puerto Ricans to vote on whether to seek national independence, remain a common-wealth or become a state. The bill passed the House by only one vote and was quickly smothered in the Senate.

It apparently did not occur to most Republican leaders that the very category "Hispanic" is a statistical abstraction, not to say a fiction, that disguises many different cultural, ethnic, linguistic and racial realities.

As I remarked in a column at the time, the mere fact that Puerto Ricans speak Spanish no more means that other "Hispanics (Mexicans, Cubans, Central Americans, etc.) want it to become a state than most Anglo-Americans want New Zealand to become one. By trying to "reach out" to "Hispanics" as one big lump, the Stupid Party merely betrays that it still harbors ethnic stereotypes in its own mind.

"What is at stake is whether Puerto Rico will become something it really is not -

a part of the American union and the common culture that makes union possible -

by further encouraging the United States to become what it was never intended

to be - a multicultural

and multiracial

‘universal nation.'" The Republican bill died (or at least became comatose) in the Senate, but in Puerto Rico itself there has just been a referendum on options similar to those of the bill, and the Puerto Ricans killed the idea of Puerto Rican statehood as dead as it can be killed. With a choice of voting on one of five options (statehood, independence, remaining a commonwealth, something called "free association or - everyone's favorite - none of the above), the Puerto Ricans chose the last by 50.2 percent. Only 46.5 percent voted for statehood, almost exactly the same as the statehood vote in a 1993 referendum.

Of course, the vote won't really kill the statehood movement, and Puerto Rico's governor is insisting on pushing even harder for statehood. But whatever the future of the controversy, the Puerto Rican vote does send Americans an important message.

"I voted to stay the way we are, to keep our language, our culture, the Latinismo and the ability to participate in all the pageants and sporting events," one non-of-the-abover, a 64-year-old gentleman named Josi Milan, told the New York Times last week. Milan, at least, understands what is at stake in the debate over statehood for the island.

What is at stake is whether Puerto Rico will become something it really is not - a part of the American union and the common culture that makes union possible - by further encouraging the United States to become something it was never intended to be - a multicultural and multiracial "universal nation." Milan and at least half of his fellow Puerto Ricans think their culture should remain what it is. They are entirely right to think so, and they are almost certainly right that statehood would endanger that identity.

Why, then, cannot most Americans, or at least most American leaders in both political parties and the cultural elite, understand that statehood for Puerto Rico would weaken the national and cultural identity of the United States no less than it would weaken that of the island itself?

Thus, the neo-conservative Washington Times, in an editorial praising the outcome of the recent Puerto Rican referendum, wrote that "Puerto Rico" has a distinct and flourishing culture of its own. The people of the island recognize that statehood would bring demands of assimilation that would threaten their particular way of life." If that is sauce for the Puerto Rican goose, it also ought to be sauce for the United States gander, but the Times, like most neo-conservative organs, zealously opposes further restrictions on immigration into the United States.

If it is legitimate for the Puerto Rican people to reject official membership in the United States because they see such membership as a threat to their identity, their "particular way of life," then it is also legitimate for Americans through their federal laws to reject official membership in the United States for culturally alien immigrants. But hardly anyone in positions of national leadership, left or right, sees that or says that.

If the American cultural and political elite listens real hard, it will hear a nation asserting its own right to exist and survive. Unfortunately, that sound comes not from the American people and certainly not from their elites, but from the Puerto Ricans who last week rightly chose to stay the way they are.

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