Law in Contemporary Society

Why not statehood?

-- By ValeriaFlores - 22 Feb 2021


In my last essay draft, I did not offer an explanation of why statehood would not decolonize Puerto Rico, but rather wrote about the exploitative and colonial relationship the United States holds with Puerto Rico. Upon receiving comments, I could not think of many reasons why statehood would not, in a practical and literal sense, decolonize Puerto Rico. That was because it could, and I had wrote that essay as a way to unsuccessfully convince myself it could not. I was forced to look inward and I realized that convincing myself statehood would not change Puerto Rico’s condition is something I have been doing for years, and now I have to understand why.

Independence and Statehood

Where I grew up, it would have been inconceivable for someone to favor statehood. The majority of professors in my high school and people around me favored independence, and that was instilled in me, and every other student, from the start. We were taught about the invasion, the experiments, the killings, all done by the U.S. military on Puerto Rican soil. I cannot think of one single professor or student that favored statehood, or that would even talk about it as a viable option for the Island’s status.

I wanted to study in the U.S. upon graduating high school, which some of my friends thought was betrayal. I ended up staying in the Island and went to the University of Puerto Rico, a university that is known for its favoring of independence. I did not fit in from the start, and it was the first time I questioned whether independence would be an attainable option for Puerto Rico. However, every time I thought about statehood as the alternative, I always remembered our history with the United States and brushed it off quickly.

Racism and Identity

Part of why I do not want Puerto Rico to become a state has to do with the racism I encounter whenever I am in the U.S. It has shaped how I see myself and my identity. The first time I visited the U.S., I was asked that if I claimed to be from Puerto Rico, how come my English was so good. Because I have blue eyes, someone told me I was exotic and did not look Puerto Rican at all. I once attended a conference on legal ethics and the speaker asked if there was anyone from outside the U.S. I raised my hand and said I was from Puerto Rico, to which he responded, “you’re basically ours, just a matter of paperwork.” These and countless other encounters have made me think that it would be impossible, with the current racism and micro-aggressions towards Puerto Ricans, for us to ever truly be a part of the U.S.

Statehood as a solution

If I leave aside the history, my personal experiences and desire to see my Island free someday, statehood can be the better option. We would be able to vote for the President and to be represented in Congress, granting us political power over our government. We would be treated as U.S. citizens both on and off the mainland. We would receive more funding and the same benefits the other 50 states do. We would enjoy all of the rights under the U.S. Constitution. All of this and more would translate into tangible change in the lives of many Puerto Ricans. On the contrary, becoming independent would be very difficult. Puerto Rico has been a colony for most of its existence, first a colony of Spain, then of the U.S. We never had an opportunity to develop an economy or a government of our own. With our current $74 billion debt, it would be almost impossible to build our own economy and government system in a way that would not take the time we cannot afford. Our local government would not be a solution to this, for it has almost always been corrupt, and all it knows is to work towards the preferred status of the party in power. Further, we would lose our U.S. citizenship, which affords us, among many things, the liberty to come, go and stay, especially when so many Puerto Ricans have family in the U.S. It is very hard to predict Puerto Rico’s future if it were to become independent, and as perfect as the option may seem given the relationship between the Island and the U.S., it is rather utopian.


Our history with the U.S. is what keeps me from favoring statehood. The Foraker Law and the Jones Act paved the way for the U.S. Congress to decide what would be locally applicable to Puerto Rico and what would not be. In the Insular Cases, the Supreme Court has stated for years that our U.S. citizenship does not stand for all of the rights under the U.S. Constitution. Puerto Ricans have been and are treated as second-class citizens, and Puerto Rico has been kept a colony because it has long benefitted the United States economically.

But the reality, one that I have tried to avoid and is finally time to recognized, is that becoming a U.S. state would benefit and decolonize Puerto Rico, even if not in the way I am looking for. It will not erase the past, but Puerto Ricans struggle with real issues that will be solved by statehood, whereas they could be exacerbated if we were to become independent. The change I am looking for does not necessarily rest on Puerto Rico’s status, but on a social change that is much deeper than that.

History is not only a discipline about the past. The social scientist component of the discipline tends to see it foremost in that way, but the humanist component knows that history is also about our relationship with the past.

The thoughts you are having in these drafts show the importance of that relationship. How we understand our history can define not only what we understand about our present, but what we want for our future. This is the source of the intense argument about US history at the moment. No one is actually arguing about what happened in the American past, or the Texas past even. They are arguing about whether it's allowed to teach what this history means to us now, because our relationship to our past will condition what we want for our future. You are asking the same question in another permutation of the history of the US empire. How the Puerto Rican people should structure their relationship to the US depends not only on "the history," but also on their relationship to it. Not only what has happened, but how they conceive justice about what has happened: what's about memory, what's about memorialization, what's about identity recognition, what's about getting paid back from the future wealth of the US for what was done.

Whether statehood is a betrayal, or the best route to the justice you want for a past that cannot be changed but can only be better understood, depends. Not on what the history was, but on what it means now. That is what you and your generation of Puerto Rican people, no matter where they live, are now in charge of figuring out.

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r5 - 22 May 2021 - 13:29:22 - EbenMoglen
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