Hurricanes do more than destroy homes, daily routines, power lines, agriculture, communication systems and levees. Hurricanes unveil unequal power dynamics, crush souls and create narratives, such as: “Puerto Ricans are American citizens.” This is dangerous and arrogant. It is dangerous because it is incomplete. It is arrogant because it presupposes that the solution to Puerto Ricans’ colonial predicament is U.S. citizenship.
As a Puerto Rican, I find this story disturbing. It deprives us of our self-determination, and it assumes that the master knows what is best for the slave. The question is not why Puerto Ricans are not treated as U.S. citizens. The question should be whether Puerto Ricans want to be U.S. citizens.
It is true that Puerto Ricans have U.S. citizenship due to a series of congressional statutes. But it is also true that these statutes were enacted without consulting Puerto Ricans.
Puerto Rico became a U.S. colony in 1898, when the United States purchased the island and its people as war booty from Spain as part of the Treaty of Paris. Before the United States invaded, Puerto Ricans had Spanish citizenship. The queen of Spain had signed the Autonomic Charter of 1897, granting Puerto Ricans representation (voice and vote) in the courts of Spain. Ironically, Puerto Ricans enjoyed greater political participation under the monarchy of Spain than under the United States. Soon after, in 1900, Congress passed the Foraker Act, implementing a military government in Puerto Rico. Sen. Joseph Foraker (R-Ohio) proposed Puerto Rican citizenship for Puerto Ricans because Congress did not want to give Puerto Ricans even the illusion of having the same rights as those on the mainland.
Eventually, Congress did give Puerto Ricans official citizenship under the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917. But to this day, Puerto Ricans continue to be subjects of the United States without a right to vote for the president, without voting representation in Congress and without equal treatment compared with citizens born or naturalized in the United States. #PuertoRicoSeLevanta