One of the loveliest songs in the American traditional canon is Stephen Foster’s “Ol’ Folks at Home” which begins with the nostalgic lyric, “Way down upon the Suwamee River…….”. This was a post-Civil War composition and it relates to the dilemma faced by so many former slaves who had to leave their plantation quarters to fend for themselves
after emancipation. They knew no other existence, most had no schooling since their work had been all physical, so, in their misery, many inevitably were “still longing for the ol’ plantation and for the ol’ folks at home”.
Commonwealthers seem to be affected by a similar syndrome. So used to being serfs – very well treated serfs – they are afraid of taking the last step to culminate commonwealth status into statehood and so become a full partner of Uncle Sam. They feel safe with the status quo, shameful though it is to be the last colony in the free world. What-ifs are louder to them than the “could-be”s.
And there are so many uncertainties if Puerto Rico were to achieve Statehood – but many certainties too. The State of Puerto Rico would have two Senators and seven/eight Representatives in Congress to make sure that the Island gets full equal federal treatment . Plus, being able to vote in the federal elections, with all the political clout that goes
with it. And, full application of all federal programs to the island. And …. sovereignty and dignity !!
Daily life in Puerto Rico, USA would be pretty much the same as it is now, with Spanish as the lingua franca, just as German is used daily in parts of Wisconsin and Italian in Little Italy in Manhattan. And Spanish in downtown Miami, Orlando, Tampa, El Paso, and Santa Fe. However, the island could offer its people, the work force, and its youth many more prosperous options, with statehood attracting much more investment from stateside and increased tourism. Like Hawaii, Puerto Rico would enjoy an upward surge without precedent and really become the contact point between the USA and the rest of the hemisphere, which is mostly Hispanic, a role for which Puerto Rico is ideally suited once it has the sovereignty, as a State, to merit Latino respect.
And keep on being American citizens, which is what 97% of the people want.
More than Could-bes, these are Will-bes – once the commonwealthers get over the “Ol’ Folks at Home Syndrome” and join up with the pro- statehood forces to apply for statehood.
Born in Santurce, PR, Mr. J. Raymond Watson is a retired civil engineer who has served in high-level positions for various PR governors, and in the federal government. He was Governor Luis Ferré’s Executive Director of the PR
Highway Authority, where he lead efforts to introduce toll turnpikes and the Urban Train to the Island. In the Gov. Carlos Romero Barceló’s Administration, Watson served as President of government-owned PR Telephone Co. As
Caribbean Area Director for the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, he introduced Community Development Block Grants and Comprehensive Modernization of Public Housing Projects to PR. Mr. Watson
also served as Associate Professor of Civil Engineering, UPR-Mayaguez, and in private practice worked in major infrastructure projects in PR, including Highway PR-10 (Arecibo- Utuado), Guayama By-Pass PR-53. Mr. Watson was Board Chairman of the internationally-recognized Casals Festival Corporation. Among his many recognitions include the Caribbean Business Journal’s Outstanding PR Businessmen 1988 and the Luis A. Ferré Award. A graduate of the
University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (cum-laude) and MIT (honors), Mr. Watson provides commentary to various media outlets in Puerto Rico.
This commentary, Puerto Rico and the “Ol’ folks at home” syndrome, was originally published in PRPolNews.