In 1965, Governor Luis Muñoz Marin of Puerto Rico gave a speech called “The Deep Significance of United States Citizenship.” With Citizenship Day coming up on March 2, it’s a good time to look back at the important points he made.
Muñoz Marin supported a “commonwealth” which has been proven to be mythical, and some of his speech focuses on this: the idea that Puerto Rico would only be subject to federal laws with the agreement of the people of Puerto Rico, for example, and that the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico was unique. These things were widely believed in 1965, but we now see that they did not turn out to be true.
His views on citizenship, however, apply to us now as they did then.
Puerto Ricans who are citizens of the United States
“We are Puerto Ricans who are citizens of the United States,” he said, “not citizens of the United States who have ceased being Puerto Ricans.”
As citizens of the state of Puerto Rico, we will be Puerto Ricans as surely as the citizens of Texas are Texans — and U.S. citizenship is just as appropriate and necessary for us as for the Texans, New Yorkers, and Californians who take pride in their states.
“It should be obvious,” Muñoz Marin continued, “that the greatest value of United States citizenship, which we carry proudly together with that of Puerto Rico, is the right to be different, to have individual and collective traits which are developed spontaneously by every individual, every community, every people in the struggle of its spirit with its circumstances and destiny.”
The speech goes on to admire and celebrate diversity, as well as unity in diversity. Unity is important to U.S. citizenship, Muñoz Marin said, as much as U.S. citizenship supports diversity.
“Certain attitudes, of course, must be common to all who cherish a common citizenship,” said Muñoz Marin. “Deep loyalty to the basic and unchangeable values of democracy, deep loyalty to the duty of defending those principles with unfaltering devotion.”
March 2, 2023, is the 106th anniversary of the day in 1917 when Puerto Ricans gained U.S. citizenship. Anyone who wanted to reject U.S. citizenship had the right to do so, but everyone born in Puerto Rico from that day forward had birthright U.S. citizenship.
This is a day to celebrate U.S. citizenship, but also a good day to commit to action which will make that citizenship permanent. As a state, Puerto Rico will have full citizenship under the U.S. Constitution, like all the other states. Under any other status, Puerto Rico could lose the current statutory citizenship.