Puerto Rico Cannot Become Another Hawai’i

in Politics by

This column first appeared on Latino Rebels

The 2012 book Lost Kingdom tells the story of how a chain of islands and its people are slowly conquered by foreigners selling the promise of democratic government and economic prosperity. In less than a century, the islanders go from having their own vibrant culture, with their own religious beliefs and social customs, to being completely under the heel of Christianity and capitalism.

The history of Hawai’i is indeed a sad one, and one with which, as a Puerto Rican, I find myself way too familiar. Reading of the missionaries’ arrival in 1820 and their prompt prohibitions against the hula and other Hawaiian traditions deemed too vulgar, or even downright demonic, for civilized society, I can’t help but think of the banning of the Puerto Rican flag and “La Borinqueña,” during the nine years that the Ley de La Mordaza (Gag Law) was in effect. Or that the Hawaiian islands, in the decades following their discovery by Captain Cook in 1778, are referred to by the outsiders as the Sandwich Islands, in honor of some English earl, in much the same way that my father’s island is now known as Puerto Rico —briefly “Porto Rico”— instead of Borikén, the name given to it by the people who first lived there.

Hearing the reasons for annexation touted by the haole press in the 1800s, I’m reminded of those peddled by the statehooders of the Partido Nuevo Progresista and other vendepatrias today: that the islands should be lucky to be swallowed by an octopus so powerful and prosperous as the United States; that being in the belly of the beast will mean greater freedoms and riches for the natives; and the whispered suggestion that the native culture is a backward embarrassment, and not much worth preserving anyhow.

It’s infuriating to see how many lies the media reports as facts, and worse still, how easily the media gets away with it. After Puerto Rico’s most recent referendum in November, with outlets reporting the statehood option had won with 52 percent of the vote, one would think the status question were settled. Yet, it only takes another second or two of reading to learn that statehood earned 52 percent of a 52 percent turnout. Putting it plainly, only a mere one in four registered voters in Puerto Rico truly cares to see his homeland fully adopted by Uncle Sam—or at least, only one in four Puerto Rican voters remains under the delusion of there being any actual possibility of statehood being granted in his or her lifetime.

What do the people of Puerto Rico have to lose by abandoning their century-old resistance to American domination? Ask the Hawaiians.

The kānaka maoli are recognized across the other 49 states as a proud people with a vibrant culture. But Hawaiian culture pales in comparison to what it was only a couple centuries ago, a shadow of its former glory. Today their sacred lands and waters have been converted into private playgrounds for American industry and the superrich. Pu’uloa, hollowed home of the shark goddess Kaʻahupahau, is now a boatyard for U.S. destroyers, attack submarines and aircraft carriers, as well as the site of an infamous raid by Japan in 1941, when close to 2,500 people lost their lives—a place of tears and death, born by America’s psychotic dream of ubiquitous power.

The Hawaiʻi ʻōʻō, a colorful bird once endemic to the Big Island, whose feathers were carefully collected and used to make robes, capes and staffs for Hawaiian nobles, is now extinct, a ghost, along with the other four members of its genus on the other islands, thanks to overhunting and habitat destruction; their songs have been replaced by the incessant chirping of the coquí, a frog whose own homeland lies over 5,700 miles across the globe, in a faraway sea, on America’s other floating ATM… Puerto Rico.

If Puerto Rico hopes to become a full-fledged member of the United States, it will have to do like Hawai’i did and give up all rights to itself, and hope the Americans will allow it some minor cultural revival sometime in the distant future.

“Puerto Ricans have no culture,” I was recently told by a young Latina. “They don’t even have their own language. They’re completely Americanized.”

This isn’t true, but it will be if Puerto Rico intends to surrender itself to the States for… what? Money? Security? The only money Puerto Rico sees is the boatloads leaving the island. The only security Puerto Rico knows are the U.S. boots guarding those shipments. Just look at what happens after every devastating hurricane or earthquake, and then tell me again about the money and security Puerto Rico enjoys by being a colonial possession of the richest and most powerful nation on Earth.

Colonialism never exists for the benefit of the colonized, and no colony ever becomes an equal partner in the country that colonized it, just as a slave never becomes an equal partner of his master; at most he rises to the level of a house slave, allowed to eat the master’s food but not at the master’s table, and wear the master’s clothes but only his old hand-me-downs.

Such a person, no matter how rich and secure he or she may feel, is still a slave. And if Puerto Rico is ever granted statehood, Puerto Ricans will always be a colonized people, as much in Ponce as they are in Chicago—as much as the Hawaiians are. Anyone who wishes to see their homeland and its people bowed to such depth is a traitor to his people and himself.

Look at it this way: Mississippi and Louisiana are the poorest states in the Union in terms of the percentage of its people living in poverty, and yet, Puerto Rico is more than twice as poor as either of them. In what alternate universe does one imagine that the U.S government is going to deal with the people of Puerto Rico as equally as it does the people of Mississippi? Considering the massive amounts in federal funding which would have to be poured into Puerto Rico just to raise it to a level on par with Mississippi, it will be a snowy day in Guánica before Puerto Rico’s star is added to Old Glory.

So it seems statehood is not an option, in more ways than one.

 

Featured image: Native Hawaiian schoolchildren, photographed by Henry Wetherbee Henshaw, c. 1900

Hector is the editor and publisher of Enclave. A Chicago writer now floating on the edge of Las Vegas, he is also the former deputy editor for Latino Rebels, as well as the former managing editor for Gozamos, a Latino art-activism site based in his home town. He has contributed to RedEye, a Chicago daily geared toward millennials, and La Respuesta, a New York-based site for the Puerto Rican Diaspora, plus a number of publications, including The Huffington Post. He studied history (for some reason) at the University of Illinois-Chicago, where his focus was on ethnic relations in the United States.

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