Sound Bites, Cat Fights and Political Malfeasance

Here’s a conundrum for you to gnaw on after breakfast. It’s an indisputable fact that folks born on the island of Puerto Rico were Spanish Citizens prior to 1898. Between 1898 and 1900 the citizenship status of the island’s residents was a little murky. The smoke hadn’t settled since the Spanish-American War. In 1900 the Congress of these here United States clarified (?) the situation by passing legislation declaring those folks who lived on the island were Puerto Rican Citizens. Up to that point in time there was no such animal as a Puerto Rican Citizen.

Then in 1917 Congress clarified it again (?) by passing legislation declaring Puerto Ricans to be US citizens. But they stipulated that each individual Puerto Rican had to decide whether to become an American Citizen or to retain their Puerto Rican Citizenship. All the while their citizenship status was muddied by the fact that Puerto Rico was defined as an unincorporated territory. Incorporated territory-hood was reserved for political entities (like Hawaii and Alaska) who were destined for statehood. That should have been clue number one.

In 1932 it looked like Puerto Rico was going to make the cut. Several bills appeared to be in the works that would eventually lead to Puerto Rican statehood. Remember we were in the middle of the Great Depression and the US Treasury need the money. Then in 1940 legislation was passed that made birth in Puerto Rico equal to birth in the United States! If you were a native-born Puerto Rican you were, by definition, an American Citizen. But Puerto Rico was still an unincorporated territory.

Then in 1952 the US government clarified (?) the situation again by declaring Puerto Rico to be a Commonwealth. But their definition of a Commonwealth, particularly when it came to Puerto Rico, sure sounded a lot like the tired, old definition of an unincorporated territory.

In a nutshell that’s how the Sovereign Nation views Puerto Ricans. But what about Puerto Ricans themselves? Do they view themselves as American Citizens or Puerto Rican Citizens or Ibero-American Citizens? Of course, there isn’t a single correct answer. The truth is Puerto Ricans have a strong national heritage they fiercely defend and embrace. There are even rumored to be small enclaves of conservative Puerto Ricans who owe allegiance to their Arawakan ancestry. Nor have the blustering politicos in Washington done much to convince them of the error of their ways.

In closing let me point out that there are eleven consulates and one Embassy in Puerto Rico. Embassies, by definition, are only located in a Sovereign Nation’s capital. The Spanish Embassy in Puerto Rico retains its Embassy status for whatever reason. Does that mean they have special privileges or special powers? Do they still consider Puerto Rico an independent political entity? As Shakespeare might have said: What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But if you called it a porcupine, you’d best watch out for all them pesky quills.

Bottom line appears to be this. Puerto Ricans are American citizens if they want to be. If they don’t want to be, they can be Puerto Rican citizens. If they decide to be Puerto Rican citizens, they can get a Spanish passport by dint of their Ibero-American status. If you were born in Wichita, Kansas, you’re a by-God American citizen. If you were born in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico, you can be whatever the Hell you want.

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