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Puerto Rico, the outsider



College of Charleston


- experimental

Puerto Rico, the outsider

They are citizens, too.

Sarah Shtessel


As Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Sept. 20, destroying towns, homes, and lives, the United States forgot that Puerto Rico is part of the U.S. Even President Trump seemed confused when he suggested that Puerto Rico may need to repay the United States for the support and aid provided for the recovery after Hurricane Maria.

A recent poll by the Morning Consult that surveyed 2,200 adults shows that only 54 percent of Americans know that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Similarly, a poll by The Economist and YouGov show that only 43 percent of those who replied knew that Puerto Ricans are American citizens. Such statistics can be dangerous, because if people do not recognize that Puerto Ricans are Americans, then the likelihood that they will support sending aid to Puerto Rico after the hurricane decreases. Therefore, it is not surprising that the United States has not sent aid in a timely and productive manner. Even Mexico has already sent aid to Puerto Rico even though it has itself experienced two major earthquakes in the past month.

Due to the statistics reported by major polling and survey organizations, I decided to make a small, non-scientific poll myself about whether or not the students at the College of Charleston are aware that Puerto Rico is part of the United States. The poll was distributed through Facebook, and so the sample of responses are from a self-selected group of people who use Facebook often. As I said, this is a little unscientific study just to get an idea of what students at College of Charleston think.

To my surprise, I received 153 responses to the poll. The first question asked whether people thought that Puerto Rico was part of the United States, for which 95.4 percent of people answered correctly that yes. Compared to the general U.S. statistic of 54 percent, College of Charleston students seem to be more educated on Puerto Rico. As for those who answered incorrectly, they may have been thrown off by the question and so answered no. The second question asked those who answered yes to the first question to state whether they thought Puerto Rico was a U.S. territory or a state. Every participant correctly answered that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory.

The final question asked participants on whether they think Puerto Rico should become a state, for which 65.4 percent said yes while 34.6 percent says that it should not. What makes this percent so interesting is that while I was monitoring the responses coming in, I noticed that this percent had not changed. From when the sample size was 29 to when it grew to 153, two-thirds support statehood while one-third does not. This suggests that the sample data is indicative of the larger population, and that most people want Puerto Rico to be a state. Why then has Congress not voted on Puerto Rico’s statehood?

When I thought that this statistic could not get more interesting, it did. I could not find a national poll on what people living in the current 50 states thought about Puerto Rican statehood. Neither the Pew Research Center nor the New York Times or the Washington Post have attempted to learn more. When looking through my college library databases and Google Scholar, I also came home empty handed. There are scholarly books on Puerto Rico’s history and on whether Puerto Ricans want their territory to become a state, but I failed to find any poll or statistic on the opinion of people within the U.S. though. I acknowledge that I may not have looked hard enough, but the lack of information seems astounding considering how controversial this issue is.

People seemingly do not care on whether a territory with 3.4 million U.S. citizens becomes a state, receives any government benefit, or even exists. But people should care. Puerto Rico heavily contributes personnel to the U.S. military forces. Moreover, as a territory, Puerto Rico pays $3 billion in taxes while receiving little benefits from them, such as Social Security, Medicaid, or other forms of welfare. The lack of knowledge and care on Puerto Rico is a problem of empathy. Humans are herd animals. We like those who are within our group and look down on those outside. If people within the U.S. do not care about Puerto Rico, then the territory will never receive any aid and will never be a state. By herd mentality, it will forever be the outsider.