March 17, 1993

I found one of my English essays from 9th grade. I typed it up and am posting it here, for a few reasons:

1)   I like seeing my writing from back in the day. On the one hand, I think it’s strong writing for a 14-year old. Also, I like seeing how bad it is compared to my writing now, yet at the same time, full of the same weaknesses.
2)   I like seeing how passionate yet ignorant I was, politically. Makes my current passionate ignorance more palatable.
3)   It’s educational. The more you know, the further you’ll go…into student loan debt.
4)   When I was 14, I thought I was in love with a girl in my neighborhood. She was tall, and blonde, and all summer she went around the neighborhood on roller skates. One day, unexpectedly, she came to my house. She wanted to hang out. So we hung around out front and started talking. I thought this was the start of something magical…until I told her I was going to Puerto Rico later that summer, and was anxious about flying, and she said, “Why don’t you drive there?”
5)   Because Harvey Levin is an asshole. An asshole who speaks for many.



A few months ago, TMZ spotted ex-NBA player John Salley in the airport, and in a non-sequitur befitting a company as absurd as TMZ, asked Salley about the possibility of Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state. Only the question was posed as a problem. When Salley pointed this out, the interviewer responsed:

“Well, Puerto Rico is kind of a poorer nation, you know? Like, wouldn’t they make our country…wouldn’t they hurt our country? Like, putting them in the Union would just drag it down.”
Later, in the TMZ tripe room (I won’t call what they do news), Levin added: “There’s some truth to it. That’s what we need now, is more problems…What do we gain my making them a state?”
TMZ’s voiceover guy answered: “Baseball players…and, um…plantains.”
Levin continued: “What if it’s as bad as Mississippi? You wanna bring another Mississippi in?”

Trust me, twat-face: nobody needs you to bring them “in.”

So, if you’re curious about what I was interested in in 1993 besides the Knicks and statuesque blonde rollerskatin’ chicks:


The dictionary defines a colony as “any people or territory separated from but subject to a ruling power.” The island of Puerto Rico has been treated as a colony for 485 years. First it was colonized and exploited by Spain, from 1508-1898. In 5 years, it will be the 100th anniversary of the United States’ colonization of the island. The standard of living in Puerto Rico is now at a high enough level where the so-called “arsenal of democracy” should cut off its imperialistic ties to the island and give Puerto Rico the right to operate as a self-sufficient, independent nation. The time is right. Puerto Rico is now ready for independence.

To better understand the political situation of Puerto Rico, one should know its physical features. Located 1,050 miles from the tip of Florida, Puerto Rico stretches 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the north shore and the Caribbean Sea on the southern shore. Squeezed onto this island are 3,300,000 people. This translates into 900 people per square mile, compared to 60 per square mile for the United States. Puerto Rico also consists of the islands of Mona, Culebra, and Vieques (which is a controversial situation I’ll tell you of later).

The colonization of Puerto Rico began hundreds of years ago under the flag of Spain. Puerto Rico underwent the typical Caribbean experience: discovered by Columbus, exploited and colonized by Spain. On November 14, 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered the Taínos (natives) living on the island of Borinquén (Land of the Valiant One). Being the religious man he was, Columbus renamed it San Juan Bautista (St. John the Baptist).

For the next 15 years, very little occurred, except the transporting of cows from Hispaniola to graze. But in 1508, King Ferdinand II sent Juan Ponce de Léon to Puerto Rico. Ponce de Léon arrived with 50 armed men who detested the inhabitants—an interesting attitude when they were outnumbered 600 to 1. However, the desire for gold and the ideas of conquest eliminated any fears. Also, the Taínos were composed of 2 very different groups: the peaceful Arawaks and the violent Caribs. The Arawaks were quickly forced to work as gold miners, where they quickly disappeared, an extinct people. The Caribs put up a little resistance, but they were no match for the Spanish conquistadors. In 74 years, the Spanish managed to destroy the entire native civilization.

While this travesty was occurring, Puerto Rico acquired the name it now bears—by accident. A mapmaker’s error switched the names of the city of Puerto Rico and the island of San Juan. Also at this time, African slaves were being brought in to replace the dying Taínos. Soon, however, Puerto Rico had more to worry about than dying slaves. The island was under attack from France, Holland, and Great Britain. All these assaults pointed out the strategic importance of Puerto Rico. This was probably the reason Spain refused to trade Puerto Rico to Great Britain for Gibraltar. Spain was also benefitting from their economic exploitation of Puerto Rico. By using a mercantilist policy, Puerto Rico was only allowed to sell their products to and purchase goods from Spain. Finally, in 1815, Puerto Rico was granted the right to unrestricted trade. One reason for this was the fact that Puerto Rico had gained official representation in the Spanish parliament 7 years earlier. But many Puerto Ricans were upset about their political status. These feelings led to a few small rebellions, which occurred in 1835, 1838, and 1867. Finally in 1868, all the frustrations erupted into one large rebellion. Known as El Grito de Lares (the Cry of Lares), this uprising led to Spain granting Puerto Rico provincial status. Then, under pressure from Spanish liberals, the Autonomic Charter of 1897 gave Puerto Rico almost total freedom from Spain’s influence. It appeared that after 390 years, Puerto Rico would finally be liberated. Unfortunately, one nation had other plans for the future of Puerto Rico—the United States of America.

The United States of America deemed it appropriate to invade a small island that was associated with Spain, despite the fact it was as loosely associated with Spain as most independent nations. But, on July 25, 1898, the U.S. invaded the island, met by retreating Spaniards and confused (but welcoming) civilians. The US ceded Puerto Rico in late 1898. Two years later, the Foraker Act was approved by Congress. This act eliminated any feelings felt by Puerto Ricans that they might achieve freedom. It was the first step in American colonization.

Even before the Foraker Act, however, the U.S. had made it abundantly clear they did not intend to give Puerto Rico the right to self-government. In 1899, President William McKinley’s Secretary of War, Elihu Root, made this statement after already speaking of how Puerto Ricans would need to slowly absorb the concepts of self-government: “They would inevitably fail…” The Foraker Act continued to follow the policy that Puerto Rico needed a guiding hand to help them along. This act allowed Puerto Rico a representative in Congress who could stand by and watch, but he couldn’t vote (a situation that still exists today). Puerto Rico also could elect a lower house on the island, but the upper house, which was appointed by Washington, could overrule the lower house. Puerto Rico was also now a part of the United States’ tax and fiscal systems. This led to a huge economic exploitation by American sugar companies, along with other companies. These violations would probably have continued if not for the efforts of one Luis Muñoz Rivera.

Muñoz Rivera, a politician and Puerto Rican hero of the 19th century, helped persuade Congress to pass the Jones Act. Overruling the Foraker Act, the Jones Act granted citizenship to al Puerto Ricans. Also, Puerto Ricans now elected the upper house. However, Washington still appointed the governor, the cabinet members, and Supreme Court justices. And, unfortunately, economic exploitation continued. Despite an ordinance not allowing corporations to own more than 500 acres, 4 conglomerates owed more than 176,000 acres. Then, in 1931, Luis Muñoz Marín joined the Puerto Rican Liberal Party. The son of Muñoz Rivera, Marín’s views were too radical for the PRLP, so he organized his own party in 1938 under the slogan “Pan, Tierra, Libertad” (Bread, Land, Liberty). With help from his friends in the Roosevelt administration, he won control of the Puerto Rican Senate. In 1948, Marín was elected to the first of four 4-year terms. That same year, Operation Bootstrap began.

The aim of Bootstrap was to industrialize Puerto Rico by placing less emphasis on agriculture and to bring Puerto Rico out of poverty. On August 5, 1947, Puerto Rico officially became a commonwealth (though some would say, as I do, it’s still a colony). Bootstrap attempted to increase investment by businesses on the mainland by introducing programs like 20-year tax exemptions. For a few decades, business prospered. Investment increased. However, once the exemptions ended, so did investment. The last 20 years have seen Puerto Rico’s economy worsen.

Currently, Puerto Rico now has a solid government. It has a two-house assembly, which is composed of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Eight senatorial districts select 2 senators each. 40 representative districts elect 1 representative each. The governor is elected to a 4-year term; he appoints 15 cabinet members. Supreme Court justices serve till the age of 70; district judges serve 8-year terms. Each of the 78 districts has one mayor and a municipal assembly. The point of this paragraph is that Puerto Rico has an adequate government that could support an independent nation.

There are other reasons that Puerto Rico is now ready (and deserving) for independence. If one is looking for examples of exploitation and unfair treatment, I have a few examples and complaints. For example, Puerto Ricans on the island pay taxes that only benefit the mainland. Puerto Ricans have the highest percent killed in wars of any ethnic group since World War I. Despite all this (and U.S. citizenship), Puerto Ricans on the island cannot vote in national elections. Also, what right does the U.S. have to rule over a culture they don’t understand? From 1900-1932, Americans spelled Puerto Rico ‘Porto Rico.’ Until 1948, the public schools taught English only. And what of the attitude many Americans felt (and still feel) toward their neighbors to the south? It was expressed by the Supreme Court in 1922, addressing the issue of granting Puerto Ricans citizenship: “…this does not convey an intention to incorporate…those distant ocean communities of a different origin and language from those of our continental people” (Balzac V. People of Puerto Rico, 1922).

Puerto Rico now has everything needed to take the step toward independence. the literacy rate is at 90%; its standard of living is much higher than that of its Caribbean neighbors. The 485 years of exploitation have not drained Puerto Rico of its agricultural products. What reasons can the U.S. have for continuing its colonial domination of Puerto Rico? The white man’s burden? Puerto Ricans aren’t capable of governing themselves? It’s their duty to help the poor, oppressed people of Puerto Rico? None of these, or any other reasons, are acceptable. There is no reason an ignorant society should rule over a people who are ready for self-government. The Age of Imperialism ended a long time ago. It’s time the United States caught up with the rest of the “civilized” world.

5 thoughts on “March 17, 1993

  1. 1) As a middle school teacher, I would fall back out of my chair if I received this as an essay submission. Congrats – but I always knew you were a smart cookie!
    2) I like how you affixed the flag to the cover page. It shows that this topic was/is close to your heart.
    3) I would like to think that someone found me as lovely as you found rollerchica.
    4) What was your grade?


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