By DAVID ROYSTON PATTERSON
ONE of the little-noticed results of the Nov. 6 elections was a plebiscite held in Puerto Rico on the island’s relationship with the United States. The outcome was murky, much like the last century’s worth of political history between Washington and San Juan, and the mainland’s confused or disinterested attitude toward Puerto Rico that abetted it. ...
Despite what my name suggests, I am Puerto Rican. I grew up with a mother from the island and a Scots-Irish father in a small town in rural North Carolina, at a time when there were so few Hispanics in the area that my mom liked to go to a Mexican restaurant just to speak some Spanish.
Wouldn't that suggest he is as as Scots-Irish by nature as he is Puerto Rican? And a lot more Scots-Irish by nurture? So, why not say you are both?
Of course, a lot of privileges come with identifying as a Puerto Rican that don't come with identifying as a Scots-Irishman.
That was 20-odd years ago. The local Latino population has grown so much since then that my mom, who retired two years ago, was able to work for a decade as a translator for the local school system.
I was used to being “discovered” as Puerto Rican. Sometimes when this happened, I’d be called upon to explain things. In fourth grade, that meant being assigned to give the class — half black kids, and half white kids — a show-and-tell presentation on Puerto Rico and its strange status as a self-ruling commonwealth, with its own governor and legislature, the American president as its head of state, but whose residents lack a vote in national presidential elections or voting representation in Congress despite being American citizens.
I was asked, “Do you eat a lot of tacos?” The answer, “Probably not any more than you do.” I was also asked, by one of the two dark-haired girls that I had a crush on, this one a doctor’s daughter, “Why don’t we just sell it?”
Even fourth graders can be left speechless. It later occurred to me that I should have answered: “You can’t just sell it. It’s not your beach house!”
If Puerto Rico were our beach house, we’d pay more attention to it.
And pay more attention to me. Did I mention I'm Puerto Rican?
(But did I also imply that I'm the kind of Puerto Rican whose clan has beach houses? It's so hard to get the balance just right.)
It has long been conventional wisdom among many Puerto Ricans that the status quo will hold because neither of the American national parties has decided that converting the island into a state would benefit them politically.
Paired with this is the conventional wisdom that the Republican Party doesn’t actually want nearly four million more Hispanic voters, and their corresponding electoral votes, at play in national elections. (Both Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum did pronounce themselves pro-statehood when courting votes — and fund-raising dollars — on the island during last year’s Republican primaries.)
When Spain granted Puerto Rico to the United States in 1898, President William McKinley initiated a project that he defined as “benevolent assimilation” on an island filled with people who already had a strong identity of their own and who, of course, primarily spoke Spanish.
Some of the same people who had resisted rule by Spain, and who had even achieved an extremely brief autonomy — nine months — for the island before the American Navy’s arrival, continued to resist rule by the United States.