Wednesday, November 05, 2008

It's over

My mom called me yesterday. She was upset. Her party lost the election in Puerto Rico, and she was taking it really hard. The evil people who want to cut up and give away the island to rich foreign interests have won.

After being away for 8 years, I had forgotten how strong island Puerto Ricans feel about their political party affiliations, and how heated and emotional they can can get, not just on election years but every single day.

I have never felt that pull, that passion while living here in Texas. I know partisan politics exist in the United States too, and that some people identify very strongly with their party. But there is a vast majority that is not affiliated, large numbers of people who do not define themselves by whom they vote for.

A big difference between partisan politics in the US and in Puerto Rico is the fact that, at their core, Puerto Rican political parties are organized on the basis of a specific position regarding the island's political status vis-a-vis the United States. In an election where most voters were reacting to the current economic woes besieging the island by voting the incumbent out, a vote for the winning party will nevertheless be taken as a mandate for them to lobby the US Congress and push that particular political status option. That is what has my mom on the verge of tears. She is convinced this win takes us one step closer to statehood, and the sole idea makes her cringe.

Never mind the fact that this cycle has been repeating itself for decades as the leadership of the country goes from one party to the other. Never mind that in the last 41 years we have had three plebiscites, and yet the question of our status does not get resolved.

Some would say it will never be resolved.


  1. Fueron muchos los que celebraron y otros muchos los que lloraron la victoria del PNP en estas elecciones. A mí me sorprendió que Fortuño arrasara. Pensé que sería una elección reñida. Me equivoqué totalmente. La isla se tiñó de azul. Hasta Ponce y Aibonito, bastiones populares, cambiaron a PNP's.

    De todos modos, siempre es curioso ver a las personas con sus banderines y hasta con palmas de coco saliéndose por las ventanas de los carros y gente a la orilla de la carretera apoyando las caravanas. Aquí la política es otra cosa.

    ¿Qué pasará? Quisiera ser optimista y pensar que en esta oportunidad pensarán más en el bienestar del pueblo que en el del partido. El tiempo dirá.

    Un abrazo.

  2. Yes, this feels familiar.

    While I have lived in a very different part of the world, it is surprising how everything stays the same.

  3. Hm. Im sorry your mom is so upset over her candidate loosing to what sounds like an awful alternative.

  4. I feel quite ashamed in admitting that I knew nothing about Puerto Rico other than it exists before I met my husband. And he's realized there's a lot he doesn't really know, having grown up in mainland United States, even though he has uncles and cousins who still live on the island. So looking at Puerto Rico's relationship with the United States and deciding how we feel about it is an ongoing thing... we base of opinions on what we know, and we mostly know that we know very little. I'd really like to learn more about how the people of Puerto Rico feel about statehood vs the status quo vs independence, and why different groups of people have such different opinions about it.

  5. Kelly, the relationship between Puerto Rico and the US, and how Puerto Ricans feel about is such a complicated question, and so fraught with emotions. Party allegiances are part of our upbringing. I remember going to rallies as a child in the 70's, and proudly displaying party flags in our home. I would get choked up with emotion too, even though I was a little girl and did not really know about politics.

    I can not presume to know what goes on in other people's minds, especially those that have preferences different from mine. I can tell you this: no matter what their goal (statehood, commonwealth or independence) Puerto Ricans have a very distinct cultural identity.

    What follows is an enormous oversimplification, of course, but to give you an idea each group believes the following:

    1- Pro-statehood supporters believe that Puerto Rico should have the same rights, responsibilities and benefits as any of the 50 states. They believe we live in a colonial state and are at a disadvantage, at the mercy of the United States, whose Congress can unilaterally sever ties with the island. They feel that after more than 100 years as a US territory, we have paid our dues and should be treated as equals.

    2- Pro-Commonwealth advocates have traditionally believed that the island has the best of both worlds: a relationship with the United States that has allowed the island's economy (and its middle class) to grow to a level higher than other Caribbean nations; plus we get to keep our culture, our language, our separate identity. They believe that a political relationship with the US (common currency, common defense) is very much necessary, valued and wanted, but they are not willing to give up their separate identity, that which makes us who we are. We have a very different history and heritage than the founders of the United States; different institutions and a different concept of what is the role of government.

    3- Pro-independence people believe we are one of the last existing colonies, that we are prisoners of the United States, and that we have been used and abused for over a hundred years, treated like we are inferior, like we do not matter. They want the island's government to have the opportunity to be fully in charge of our future, without being at the mercy of a more powerful nation looking over our shoulder. They want Puerto Rico to be a full-fledged nation, an independent country, to have a political status that matches our cultural identity. This is something we have never had in our history under Spain and later the US.

  6. Thank you for those explanations, Ingrid. I can see the drawbacks and advantages to each of those views, and I can also imagine why it's such an emotional issue. Knowing my own state's history (how Texas ended up being a state, not the Republic of Texas anymore) I even feel some emotional reaction in myself when reading the basic reasons for those views. And seeing even the slightest similarity there, I think that helps me understand and empathize with the fierce pride of the people a bit more.