Here is a link to a rather depressing survey, one which affirms that nearly half of Americans are not aware of Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory. After years of sobering evidence which only further illuminates the utter failure of our education system, another “50 percent of Americans believe an untrue thing to be a true thing” survey does not surprise nearly as much as it should.
Yet, in the wake of the utterly devastating Hurricane Maria and atrocious levels of misery and squalor inflicted upon the island, I think it proper to explore the abstract ways in which this territory not fully part of the U.S.
We begin with the most abstract and least fact-based subset of sociological evaluations: culture. Refer, once again, to the poll above. After you make your obligatory Idiocracy references, consider what this poll suggests about cultural perceptions: to a large portion of the American population, Puerto Rico is a foreign land. Consequently, the island’s status as “not-America” is held as truth by this demographic; to make matters worse, much of this demographic also consists of the types who equate “not-America” with “inferior” and “inconsequential.” This demographic constitutes half of the voting base; they have political influence, and, with Donald Trump in the White House, their toxic ideology has prevailed. Hell, it prevailed long before that; after all, why else would popular support back the War on Drugs, or the Iraq War, or constant U.S. military budget increases?
Head Shitflinger Donald Trump responded to the catastrophe in Puerto Rico, after days of ignoring in in favor of spewing bile at the NFL, by first using the frighteningly fatuous excuse of “it’s in the middle of a VERY BIG ocean” to rationalize his sheer uselessness, and subsequently claiming that Puerto Rico “[wants] everything to be done for them.”
Needless to say, Trump has proven once again that he is an entitled, soulless, ass-breathing prick. However, Trump’s political influence is but a symptom of these same cultural conditions that lead to people asking such questions as “Why should the U.S. help Puerto Rico? We should focus on America First!” Culturally, this systemic ignorance (mixed with your Percent Daily Value of xenophobia) has practically rendered Puerto Rico a foreign land. Well, at least they have some political influence… right?
Here is the thing about that: Puerto Ricans cannot vote in any U.S. federal elections. From TripSavvy, a travel guide website: “They enjoy all the benefits of citizenship, save one: Puerto Ricans who live in Puerto Rico cannot vote for the U.S. President in the general elections (those who live in the United States are allowed to vote).” I am unclear as to what those other ‘benefits of citizenship’ are, but one thing is certain: Puerto Rico is at a major disadvantage. In my U.S. History class, we just finished researching the grievances of the 13 Colonies right before the American Revolution, with one highly salient factor being the lack of representation in the British Parliament. One cannot help but draw the historical parallel; we will keep on celebrating Independence Day by keeping our neighbors awake and frightening our dogs, and yet, our government is inflicting upon its territories those same conditions which drove us to the tipping point of revolution. The government presents Puerto Rico with an illusion of sovereignty by allowing them to elect their own leaders, yet the U.S. Congress still wields the most control over the island’s governance.
Watching as these storms relentlessly ravage cities has been entirely miserable, and for as much as not “politicizing” natural disasters makes for a lovely pipe dream, it is impossible so long as there is political disagreement over such morally and scientifically straightforward issues as the acknowledgment of climate change, or whether we should even bother helping our own fucking territory. Xenophobia, ignorance, colonialism… these piss stains are so deeply embedded in the fabric of our society, and as long as they persist, the world will continue to be an unbearable place for so many people.