Press coverage of the upcoming Puerto Rico primary continues to disappoint. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post repeated the claim that Hillary Clinton was expected to win on the island because she has done better among Hispanics on the mainland. Clinton does, in fact, have a leg up on Obama in Puerto Rico, but that is because any Senator from New York will be involved in issues important to her stateside constituents, many of whom hail from the island. The dominant political issue in Puerto Rico is the political status of the island. Both Obama and Clinton were asked about the colonial status of Puerto Rico and Clinton made an obvious ploy for the pro-statehood vote saying that she thought Puerto Ricans should be able to vote for president in November. The Supreme Court has twice ruled that such an arrangement is unconstitutional: only states get to vote for President. The Twenty-third amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1961, gave the presidential franchise to voters in the District of Columbia but not to voters in the territories. The largest daily newspaper mocked Clinton with the headline: "Hillary entrega larga lista de promeas" – "Hillary’s long wish list." Clinton also made a bold play for the evangelical vote by attending Protestant church services on Sunday. Most Puerto Ricans are Roman Catholics, of course, and while church attendance rates on the island are low, Catholicism is a part of the culture in a way that most Americans have difficulty understanding. There is a small minority of evangelicals on the island, and they are highly organized, so perhaps Clinton’s gambit will pay off. But the evangelicals on the island that I have met still bring their children to the priest to be baptized and they have both Catholic and evangelical funeral services for their dead. Recently, the archdiocese of San Juan has had to begin an RCIA program, the first in Latin America as far as I can tell! The indictment of the island’s governor has gotten some coverage but the press misses the important context. It doesn’t matter that he endorsed Obama and there will be any kind of guilt by association. What matters to Puerto Ricans is that a popularly elected governor was indicted by a federal court. Federal judges are appointed by a president they do not elect and confirmed by a Senate in which Puerto Ricans are not represented. So, on the island, the indictment of the governor is seen as another intrusion by the colonial power. In fact, many advocates of Independence and more left-leaning members of the governor’s party have suggested boycotting the primary election to highlight the unfairness of their colonial status. Finally, there is the matter of race. Puerto Ricans are almost universally mixed-race and consequently, race is not a critical part of their cultural identity. They never really understood the "people of color" classification. Religion and language are much more important sources of Puerto Rican identity than race, whether they live on the island or in the states. The tensions between the blacks and Hispanics in some U.S. cities do not exist on the island. So, this could provide an opening for Obama to do better than expected in next Sunday’s primary and, subsequently, among the critical Puerto Rican communities in central Florida, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Michael Sean Winters

Comments

Anonymous | 5/29/2008 - 4:37pm
Puerto Rico is about 80-85% roman catholic (weekly church attendance is another story), Mr. Winters is correct on his data, I've been there. The percentage is lower, if we compare it to Mexico but it has the same percantage of catholics or even higher than in some South American countries were evangelical churches are spreading like wild mushrooms.. like Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay.
Anonymous | 5/27/2008 - 4:04pm
Eduardo Garcia is very much on point here. he is right. I jsut got back from an 11 day trip to Puerto Rico and observed everything he just said and even more towards that; by talking with locals and blending into the local scene. Believe it or not there are huge unspoken issues of racial bias on the island. It funny to me, because most people on the mainland USA consider at ALL Puerto Ricans to be "people of color" no matter how fair-skinned they are. It's a stubborn kind of ignorance.
Anonymous | 5/28/2008 - 2:26pm
Great essay on Puerto Rico! I am one of those who are not planing to vote since i believe this primary should be settled in the US by the same people who are going to vote in the general elections. I like Mr. Obama but like i said, it is up to americans to decide who they want to have as a president of their nation, not we puerto ricans. Greetings from the Island of Enchantment.
Anonymous | 5/28/2008 - 6:25pm
It is untrue to say that most Puerto Ricans are Catholic. Actually, only about 40% of them are. That's why Catholic church attendance rates are low - a majority of the island's population isn't Catholic!
Anonymous | 5/27/2008 - 1:48pm
ALthough Puerto Ricans are mixed race, approximately 85% consider themselves Caucasian as per US census info as returned by puerto ricans. To say that race is not a critically part of our identity is so absurd...In Puerto Rico you are either white or you are not...the vast majority would consider themselves white...those that are darker such as the those in the town of Loiza which is one of the purest centers of african blood are pretty much looked down upon for being black. Race is a huge "unspoken" issue in Puerto Rico. Most families frown upon mixed-marriages and will use derogatory terms when speaking about people of color...secondly....Puerto Ricans on the Island are FAR different than those in the mainland...they are two very different entities who do not agree with each other at times...
Anonymous | 5/27/2008 - 6:28pm
Thank you Mr Winters for a great essay on Puerto Rico, my beloved island in the caribbean. Many talking heads in the press do not want to take their time to read the history and the complex situation of Puerto Rico and they simply try to label Puerto Ricans as 'hispanics' or 'latin vote' when in reality, Puerto Rico is a whole different situation. Puerto Ricans form a nationality, who live in their own land (over 500 years of history!). Puerto Rico is an older society, when the US was founded Puerto Rico had already 300 years of history, churches were already built and people attended mass when the pilgrims were still in England...) It is true that in Puerto Rico race is not an issue as it in the United States (were racial tensions have been a constant ever since through out US history and everything is seen thru that racial lens )there was never a segregation policy in the island and Puerto Ricans ,like the rest of latin americans, are mixed raced (European- Spaniard, Caribbean Indian-Taino and African). To the previous poster: Sadly, the last pro-US statehood governor that governed Puerto Rico tried to incorporate the same US census classifications into the census of Puerto Rico and the results are a recognized statistical disaster that the present (anti pro US statehood)government is aware of (Before 2000 Puerto Ricans were not classified as White,Black...just [Puerto Ricans yes or no ]like the rest of the latin american countries do in their census).