Don't Discriminate Against Puerto Rico

by Belen Robles, LULAC National President

The future of nearly four million U.S. citizens who reside on the island of Puerto Rico hangs in the balance as Congress prepares to vote on the U.S.-Puerto Rico Political Status Act. The bill introduced by Chairman Don Young (R-AK), and cosponsored by more than eighty members of the House of Representatives, received overwhelming bi-partisan approval by the Resources Committee in May, with only one dissenting vote. There is mischief afoot, however, as a significant number of Members wish to torpedo the process by attaching amendments to the bill which would prohibit the current use of Spanish for public instruction in Puerto Rico. These amendments would dictate to the primarily Spanish speaking island to convert its entire public education system to "English Only", an imposition which Puerto Ricans would never accept.

The Young Bill would authorize a plebescite in Puerto Rico that would allow its people to inform congress of their preferred future political status: statehood, independence, or to remain a commonwealth. Make no mistake about it; this bill is about self- determination and respect for the civil rights of the American citizens of Puerto Rico, who have been denied the right to have voting representation in Congress and the right to choose our national leaders. It would be tragic, if the Young Billís goals were not achieved because of a discriminatory language requirement.

Since the end of the Spanish-American War nearly a century ago, Puerto Rico has been a possession of the United States. The present commonwealth status of the island is a decaying fig leaf that no longer hides the truth that Puerto Rico is treated as a colony by the United Sates. Despite their U.S. citizenship and the great contributions made by Puerto Ricans to the defense of our country, they are denied the civil rights which the United States has promoted around the world for more than two centuries.

Congress must act decisively to remove this corrosive stain from our national political system by passing the Young Bill and by responding positively to the result of the plebescite it sanctions. Despite the fact that Congress as a whole has refused to pass an "English Only" bill applicable to the fifty states, Congressman Gerald Solomon (R-NY) and others in congress seek to impose an "English Only" requirement prospectively on Puerto Rico, if it chooses to become a state of the union. Not only is Solomonís amendment unconstitutional and discriminatory, this bill has the potential to torpedo the plebescite and to further divide our society on the mainland.

At a time when knowledge of foreign language and culture are indispensable to Americaís competitiveness in the global economy and to the conduct of its foreign relations, it is madness to demand, that English should be the "sole" language of public instruction in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans have already adopted English as one of their two official languages, and are already increasing their English proficiency in schools and in business and public sectors. In light of these facts, one can only conclude that Rep. Solomon and his supporters are either misinformed or on a rampage of language and cultural "cleansing", which will cause even greater divisions in our country.

Misinformation can be corrected but ethnic racism must be confronted and defeated. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the largest Hispanic civil rights organization in the country, strongly endorses the Young Bill. However, LULAC adamantly opposes Rep. Solomonís imposition of a discriminatory and unconstitutional language requirement on Puerto Rico. If itís people choose statehood, Puerto Rico must be treated like the rest of our states.

The Founding Fathers of our country wisely rejected the idea of an official language for the United States. Our national history confirms the wisdom of our Founders. During the past two centuries, the United States has not only become the beacon of freedom and democracy for the entire world, and the most powerful on earth, but it has become the worldís most diverse nation. Truly, diversity has strengthened, not weakened, our nation.

Since 1917, when Congress granted American citizenship to the residents of Puerto Rico, it has not imposed an English language requirement on them. Nor has congress imposed an English language requirement on the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican men and women who have served in our armed forces, many of whom died for our country. It is the hope of LULAC that our nation is past the time when signs such as "Irish Need Not Apply", "White Only", "No Mexicans", and "No Jews" appear on our political landscape. This is not the time to erect a billboard on Capitol Hill reading "Only English Speakers Represented Here." LULAC strongly urges Congress to pass the Young Bill without any discriminatory language requirements.

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