Territories Are So Covered Wagon

The Northwest Territory. The Louisiana Territory. Indian Territory. If you’re heading for a territory, you’re probably traveling by covered wagon, with a pioneering spirit and a shotgun under the buckboard, right?

What does this have to do with the bustling modern cities of Puerto Rico? Absolutely nothing. This is one reason that it’s so hard for so many Americans to grasp that Puerto Rico is a territory. “Territory” is a term from history class, associated with sod homesteads and frontier justice, not with tropical beaches and luxurious resorts.

Many of us can’t wrap our minds around the idea that Puerto Rico is a territory. But it is. The governor of Puerto Rico has been quoted as saying, “Puerto Rico is not a mere territory. It enjoys an unparalleled relation within the American constitutional framework.”

This is simply not true. The Attorney General of the United States has clearly said that Puerto Rico is a territory, as have the reports of the President’s Task Force on Puerto Rico over and over through the decades. For the governor to keep insisting that Puerto Rico isn’t really a territory is pointless; as long as the federal government says Puerto Rico is a territory, it is a territory. Puerto Rico can change that by declaring independence, or Congress can change it by accepting Puerto Rico as a State.

Puerto Rico can’t change the relationship by announcing that it is not a territory. Americans can’t change it by refusing to believe that the U.S. still has territories. We have to be realistic. We have to be honest with ourselves. And maybe we have to change our mental picture of a territory.

A U.S. territory is a piece of land belonging to the United States which has not yet become a State. U.S. territories are no longer part of the Wild West. All the U.S. territories now are islands, and Puerto Rico is one of them.

The only other way to think of it is to use another word that sounds even more historical: “colony.”

In the 21st century, the U.S. should not own a colony. Statehood for Puerto Rico now! #PR51st
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