Puerto Rico’s political parties have traditionally been known colloquially as the statehood, commonwealth, and independence parties. Now that the “commonwealth” option has been clearly debunked, terms like “annexationist” or “assimilationist” are being thrown at the party supporting statehood.
This is another myth that has to be debunked.
Annexation is the action of adding new land into an existing political entity. This can be unclaimed land, or it can be a matter of taking a smaller area into a larger one. For example, a small village could be annexed into a larger town that has grown into its borders. The former village, once annexed, is part of the larger town. It might lose its post office, its schools, and its name on the map.
Puerto Rico is a territory belonging to the United States. The territory was ceded to the United States by Spain in 1898. You could certainly say that Puerto Rico was annexed in 1898, but it makes no sense to refer to statehood as annexation.
Puerto Rico already belongs to the United States. Statehood for Puerto Rico will not change that. The U.S. will not own more land. Puerto Rico will gain from the change, but no land will change hands.
Puerto Rico as a state will have sovereignty and rights that it does not, as a territory, currently have. It will lose nothing. Statehood is not annexation.
“Assimilation” is used to describe a smaller group of people adjusting to, accepting, or being absorbed into the dominant culture. Puerto Ricans have been citizens of the United States for a century, and more Puerto Ricans live in the 50 states than currently live on the island. Will becoming the 51st state cause Puerto Rico to be more assimilated into the culture of the U.S.?
In the sense of being absorbed into U.S. culture or losing the unique Puerto Rican culture, this is not a realistic fear. As former Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said, “Our history, our traditions, our language, our faith, our food, our music, our dance, our art, our love of family, and our embrace of life—these things constitute the very essence of what it means to be Puerto Rican. Nothing—least of all equality under statehood—could ever diminish their power or their role in our lives. Our culture is simply too strong and too resilient.”
Spanish is a mainstream language in the United States and Puerto Rico will not be the state with the largest number of Spanish speakers when Puerto Rico is the 51st state. There is no chance that Puerto Rico will forget Spanish as a result of statehood.
Those who call the statehood movement “Assimilationists” aren’t actually suggesting that equal rights will mean the end of Puerto Rican culture. They’re using the term as an insult, a suggestion that people who favor statehood lack the pride to refuse to be absorbed into the United States. In fact, states have more dignity, more rights, and more power than territories. Calling statehood supporters “assimilationsts” doesn’t change that.
It’s time to end the insults. It’s time for statehood, the path to equal rights and sovereignty for the people of Puerto Rico.