Puerto Rico Senate Places Spanish Before the Debt Crisis

Sep 4, 2015
11:23 AM


Puerto Rico has struck a mountain of unpayable debt and is now foundering, and as the island sinks to the bottom of the sea, the Puerto Rican Senate wants to make sure everyone is speaking the same language.

From Univisión:

The Senate of Puerto Rico approved on Thursday a measure that establishes Spanish as the only official language of Puerto Rico and English as a secondary language.

The aim of the project is to repeal Law 1-1993 that established both languages as official and passed during the Pedro Rosselló administration. …

It also sets down that “it isn’t about the concept of ‘Spanish only,’ but a pragmatic and realistic legislative measure of ‘Spanish first.’ “

A Wendy's in Puerto Rico (Counselman Collection/Flickr)

A Wendy’s in Puerto Rico (Counselman Collection/Flickr)

Sponsored by PPD Senator Tony Fas Alzamora, the longest-serving legislator in Puerto Rican history, the bill stipulates that an official in any of the three branches of the colonial government who fails to comply may be fined up to $10,000.

To his credit, Senate President Eduardo Bathia opposes the measure, telling Primera Hora:

I don’t believe in legislation in which the state imposes an official language. I haven’t believed in it before and I don’t believe in it now. This imposition limits those who want to be a part of a country and are constrained by a resolution of official language. The author Thomas L. Friedman has said that ‘the world is flat.’ In the 21st century, government efforts should be aimed toward multiculturalism, including the diversity of languages.

I never thought I’d be saying this of a pro-colony popular, but I couldn’t agree more with the senator.

There’s a difference between trying to preserve a people’s national identity in the face of political annihilation, and mandating that every citizen of a state speak the same language.

If English-first laws are wrong in the United States —which they are— then Spanish-first laws are also wrong in Puerto Rico and even Spain itself, as requiring that all Spanish citizens speak a particular language crosses the line into legislating culture. So long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others, people should be able to say whatever they want to say, however they want to say it.

Of course, as someone who supports Puerto Rican independence, I can’t hide  my giddiness at seeing Puerto Rico taking steps further away from statehood.

Given the virulent strains of nativism and xenophobia coursing through U.S. politics these days, it seems unthinkable that the U.S. Congress would grant statehood to an island of trigueños speaking the New World language. In the eyes of Uncle Sam, the problem with Puerto Rico has always been that it is teeming with Puerto Ricans.

Still, as the island of Puerto Rico lists onto its side, deciding which language to send out the S.O.S. in is a complete waste of the Senado’s time. The Legislative Assembly should focus on securing the colony’s political identity before moving on to its cultural identity.

Because no matter which language is spoken, it all sounds the same under water.


Hector Luis Alamo is a Chicago-based writer and the deputy editor at Latino Rebels. You can connect with him @HectorLuisAlamo.