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Opinion: Puerto Rico is a State Worth Having

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On last week’s Election Day, while most eyes and ears were focused elsewhere, America’s tiny territory of Puerto Rico voted on a historic referendum and made what could be a profound decision. With 80 percent of the island’s population voting, a significantly higher voter turnout than on the mainland, Puerto Ricans decided not only to change the territory’s relationship with the United States, but by a clear majority opted for their home to become the 51st state in the Union.

It’s now up to Congress to decide whether to grant the territory statehood and admit the island into the Union. It will be a long process and Puerto Rican statehood, if it comes at all, will likely come far in the future. But that does not mean that we on the mainland shouldn’t start getting ready for their arrival.

As a first step I, for one, think we should all bake them a pie. It’s just common courtesy, a friendly welcoming gesture. If a new family moves into the neighborhood, you bake them a pie. And yes, it’s true that we’ll have to add a 51st star to all the flags, but there’s no reason this has to necessarily be a bad thing. There could be national contests designing the new flag. Perhaps we’ll reconfigure the stars into a circle or some sort of diamond shape. Think of how this will help the economy, how many jobs will be created in the flag production industry. That’s a thing, right?

Naturally, mainland Americans will have many questions regarding their new state. What do Puerto Ricans like or dislike? Will San Juan have an NFL team? Will they be any good? Will the Jets and the Sharks quit fighting? Will Jimmy Buffet still refuse to land in San Juan Airport, where five minutes can feel like a day? I very much look forward to these questions being debated on C-SPAN.

We must also ask how the Puerto Ricans will feel about this change, if it is to occur. It’s never easy being the new kid in school, especially when the school in question conquered your house in 1898 during an ostensibly anti-imperialist military campaign against the Spanish. One could assume the Puerto Ricans may have some misgivings about our penchant for celebrating the life and deeds of Christopher Columbus. It was Columbus who first “discovered” Puerto Rico, and promptly subjected the indigenous population to deadly diseases and slavery.

All barriers, reservations and jokes aside, Puerto Rican statehood, if it is indeed the will of the people, can only be a good thing. After more than a century, Puerto Ricans may finally have all the rights and proper representation granted to American citizens. Arguably, the benefits of statehood are rightfully theirs. Since 1917, anyone born on the island is considered a citizen of the United States, and yet these fellow citizens of ours continue to lack proper representation in the federal government.

Since World War I, Puerto Ricans have defended this country in every single American conflict, including more than 10,000 who are currently on active duty serving in all four branches of the military. Four Puerto Ricans have received the Medal of Honor. The famed 65th Infantry Regiment, established in 1899 as a local military guard for the new American territory and composed mostly of Puerto Ricans, was deployed to Korea in 1950. There soldiers of the regiment were widely praised for their gallantry and valor.

Puerto Ricans are not only Americans by law but have also done all those things which might define Americans. Puerto Rico, to put it bluntly, is a state worth having.

Americans have never suffered from a growing, diverse and colorful citizenry. Mainland citizens ought to encourage their representatives to approve statehood and welcome the Puerto Ricans with open arms if and when the time comes, and not just for the cultural and material benefits that may result. The addition of another state to the Union is a historic moment, the kind of thing that might, for a brief moment at least, unite the polarized ideologies of this country the way a newborn child can unite a squabbling family. Welcoming a new member to our great American family might remind us of who we are; a vibrant nation, an ever-changing, ever-shifting nation, one whose history isn’t finished being written.

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