America’s Absentminded Empire

Just one of a variety of designs for the flag, if Puerto Rico becomes a state.  For other, wilder designs, see
Just one of a variety of designs for the American flag, if Puerto Rico should become the 51st state. Click here for other, wilder designs.

Marc-William Palen

In November 2012, a slim majority of Puerto Ricans voted in favor of U.S. statehood. And within the last week, Dr. José M. Saldaña, former president of the University of Puerto Rico, and former mayor of San Juan, Hernán Padilla, each once again raised the call for Puerto Rican statehood. Yet modern-day remnants of the American Empire continue to trouble US relations with Puerto Rico, which still holds a semi-colonial American status. To give the issue some much-needed historical perspective, what follows is a revised version of an article that previously appeared in the History News Network and the Australian newspaper.

Burn your outdated American flags; make room for the fifty-first star on the star-spangled banner.

For the first time in Puerto Rico’s more than hundred-year history as an American territory, on Election Day in November 2012, a slim majority voted in favor of U.S. statehood in a non-binding referendum that now goes to the U.S. Congress.

Puerto Ricans had been given a similar option three times before — in 1967, 1993, and 1998 — but with opposite results.

Why this apparent about face?

Because of a weakening economy, a decreasing population, and because “the current relationship simply does not create the number of jobs that we need,” says Puerto Rican Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock.

As it stands, 58 percent of Puerto Ricans now live in the mainland United States. Puerto Rico’s four-million residents — the 42 percent remaining on the island — are American citizens but can’t vote in American elections. Such has been the status quo since 1917.

But all this could change if Puerto Rico becomes the fifty-first state of the Union.

Whatever the outcome, this historic moment deserves due attention. Instead, aside from a brief flurry of superficial analysis, the implications of Puerto Rico’s self-determinative vote have gone largely ignored.

We might easily blame American political ADD for such a short attention span. More uncomfortably, such an imperial absence of mind is also a garish reminder of how much Puerto Rico’s complicated, century-long, semi-colonial status has become an accepted part of the American subconscious. Continue reading “America’s Absentminded Empire”