I am not a casual political observer. I live and breathe politics. I could have gone into politics at one point in my life, and I occasionally flirt with the idea of running for a local office like City Council or as a Congressperson. I listen to political podcasts, read multiple news sources, am a straight-up policy nerd. I love the little details with large-scale repercussions.
As such, I have been following the presidential election very closely, and so like any rational, ethical, even moderately self-aware person, of course I would not cast a vote for Trump. I also am a pragmatic person whose 36 years has eliminated almost any optimism about humanity or the American political system. I am skeptical of the effect of online activism, marches, platforms, and platitudes. I see that Joe Biden is a coherent and effective politician but also one who has not exactly presented a compelling vision for the country. His campaign can be summed up as, “I’m not Trump” and in many respects, that is good enough to get one’s vote. Biden definitely cares about liberal causes and the groups, races, ethnicities, sexualities, and social groups that fall under that umbrella. While I am extremely leftist, I see the big picture, and Biden is the man of the hour, whether you like his policies or not.
Yet I am not sure if I can vote for him. I am not sure if I can support any Democrat. I am not even sure if I can continue watching John Oliver. And I love John Oliver.
The reason is straightforward but complicated. You see, I am Puerto Rican. More importantly, I support Puerto Rico’s independence. I do not see my people as Americans in the United States sense. We are our own people, our own nation, and we were invaded, subjugated, abused, murdered, manipulated, and exploited for the past 122 years by the United States, whose arguably worst crime was to convince generations of us that we are incapable of governing ourselves.
For decades, we have had the support of the Latin American left and certain segments of the American left who decried our colonial status, but in the last 20 years something has changed, and I have spent many hours parsing what and why this change has occurred. I think it has to do with the Cold War, namely, that the left was portrayed as un-American since the days of JFK, and starting with Bill Clinton, who won after three straight presidential election landslides by Republicans, the left started to take on a nationalist bent.
The Democrats became as nationalistic and America First as the Republicans, they just used different language. This intensified after 9/11, which for all of us who were teens and older remember, was a horrifying time in how, for at least five years, anyone who publicly criticized the Bush administration was treated as a terrorist. I think these two events —the Cold War and 9/11— pushed the left in a direction that was beholden to American exceptionalism as anything out of a conservative think tank.
To use just one issue to highlight this, look at the way in which immigration is talked about by the left. America is the savior for these poor, oppressed people who have the misfortune of not being born in America. The current movement is full of language that trashes Central American countries in order to hold up the United States as the Promised Land. The language and attitudes professed by Democratic politicians and activists is full of white savior tropes and pro-Western civilization language that, if it came out of Trump, would be immediately pegged as racist. But the fact that the Dems are “protecting” immigrants from Republican racist policies and literal cages, we overlook the fact that the depiction of the countries south of the border is awash with racist, white supremacist imagery of barbaric, uncivilized societies. I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a young Latina, who wasn’t Mexican, expressing shock that Mexico has universities, libraries, malls, business, cities. She didn’t think they even had electronics. This was an extreme example of ignorance, but she got those ideas from somewhere, and it wasn’t just Republicans.
How has this translated with Puerto Rico? Notice how Dems are so quick to talk about Puerto Ricans as Americans, or American citizens. It is how they got the media to care about the aftermath of Hurricane María, and the Ricardo Rosselló ouster and protests. Mind you, neither the media nor the Dems cared about Puerto Rico until Trump was in office and openly targeted us. Puerto Rico is talked about like it is a state, which ignores our colonial history or the fact that, even after 122 years, we have maintained a separate identity and culture from the U.S.
Tom Perez, the president of the DNC, and Joe Biden have expressed a desire to make Puerto Rico a state because they believe Puerto Rico will guarantee them votes. This assertion is dubious if you know anything about Puerto Rican society—it is more conservative and homophobic than liberals would like to believe, and Puerto Ricans have not forgotten that it was Barack Obama and the Dems who passed the PROMESA Act, which established the dictatorial Financial Control Board that everyone hates on the island.
Commentators on shows like Pod Save America and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver have openly opined for Puerto Rico to be made a state so that Dems could pick up more votes. This is colonial language to the extreme. It has no regard for Puerto Ricans as a people or for our history. It is a brazen power grab (that is, if Puerto Ricans vote the way they want them to) that is arrogant and, frankly, based in the same white supremacist system that the Black Lives Matters movement and others have been marching against this past summer.
The Dems have also aligned themselves with the PNP, or New Progressive Party, the pro-statehood party on the island. For those who don’t know, the “Progressive” part of their name is a specific kind of progress well known by Native Americans—that is, the progress they speak of is assimilating into white American culture. One of the reasons Rosselló was ousted in 2019 was because in those infamous text messages that became public, he and his cronies were making racist comments about Afro-Puerto Ricans. It also should be noted that another reason his texts angered people was because they were laughing about the killings of independence leaders.
The New Progressive Party is full of white supremacist views, none as glaring as the idea that Puerto Ricans are incapable of self-governance without the aid of white Anglo people. This is the party the Dems are aligning themselves with, and if the PNP is not voted out of power this November, it is very possible the great nation of Puerto Rico will be annexed by the United States. The idea of this happening is horrifying and painful to me.
As has been the case for much of the last two years, the one beacon of hope, the one reason I can possibly will myself to vote this year is AOC, who I have had mixed feelings about because she wouldn’t take a stance on Puerto Rico for the longest time. Then last month, AOC and Rep. Nydia Velázquez proposed a plan for Puerto Rico that seeks true self-determination and puts our future in our own hands. That slight part of me that still has optimism wants to see that move forward. It is the right kind of plan, and thwarts the push for statehood, as well as criticizes the thinking behind the Democrats wanting to annex the island.
Then my pessimistic side kicks in and I just don’t know if I can trust Biden to not go ahead with a statehood initiative. The Latinx community is also mired in the sort of pro-American views that would create support for such an initiative. There have not been enough voices in our community to speak out against the annexation of Puerto Rico. We are a contradiction, we independentistas. While the rest of the Latinx community seeks to join the American fabric, we want out —not out of hatred for the U.S.— but because we believe in ourselves.
We want sovereignty over our decisions, over our land, over our future. We want to join the global community of nations to improve our economy, rebuild our infrastructure, develop our society so it can compete globally and so we can be a place that our people can return to, raise families, have a future. We want a home, and while the rest of the Latinx community is trying to find that home in the U.S., we Puerto Ricans have a home, a small island in the heart of the Caribbean that has spent over 500 years without breathing freedom.
And the person who is best equipped to right the American ship and try to reverse the chaos of the last four years, and who is the person who should be President of the United States, is also the person who threatens my people’s chance at freedom.