In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Western imperialism had reached its height, with territory on every continent claimed, controlled, or contested by European countries or the United States. Connecting these far flung territories required navies and controlling sea routes. And that meant that way-stations were needed between overseas colonies and the metropoleis, specifically for refueling ocean-faring warships with coal. Suppose you wanted to cut a canal through northern Colombia so you could sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific and needed to stop en route...
A while back, a commentariat member asked for an article on Puerto Rico, and in the absence of another topic to write about, I will deliver. [Although if we’re talking about the Caribbean, it’s Cuba that’s been making headlines, as well as black lives not mattering in the Dominican Republic]. The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is a US “colony” in the Spanish Caribbean, in the sense of an overseas dependency like Guam or American Samoa, rather than a settler colony. It is also not a U.S. state, and whether it should become one is subject to debate frequently enough that I can publish this article whenever I want and it will be timely.
Because of the ambiguity involved, I find calling Puerto Rico a colony—as many do outside of the US government—to be misleading. The United States is derived from a settler colony itself, and in that context, the term colony could imply that Puerto Rico was actively repopulated with Anglo-Americans from the mother country, which is not the case. Puerto Rico was colonized by Spain more than the United States. The island’s population of 3.5M is overwhelmingly native-born and descended from its pre-US stock, and Puerto Rico has its own elected legislature and governor unlike many other historical non-settler colonies, e.g. most of Africa, India, etc. This sets it apart from say, Hawaii, which did have a large Anglo-American settler and landlord population before being annexed as a territory, though it never had a White majority and still managed to go from colony to state. Which is an interesting story and a bad precedent..
Since Hawaii is a good comparison of non-huwhyte island territories and the issue of statehood I will give some background. Incidentally, Puerto Rico and Hawaii were both annexed in 1898, albeit under different circumstances. The former was invaded and conquered from Spain by US forces. The latter was more of a standard beachparty; White planters overthrew the Polynesian monarchy, a counterrevolution attempted to restore the queen, Japanese warships scouted the coastline and in 1898 Congress passed a resolution annexing Hawaii as a territory. But unlike Puerto Rico, Hawaii had an Anglo-American settler population and would receive large scale immigration from Asia. Wikipedia is a bit spotty but the Japanese-descended population appears to have been 42% by the 1920s, not counting other Asians and Pacific Islanders, who together made non-whites a majority. Hawaii became a state in 1959 and faced opposition from Southern lawmakers on racial grounds, and since then the White population has declined as it has elsewhere in the continental US. And while I can’t personally confirm this, I’ve heard that there is substantial racism against White people in Hawaii. But given the following table and the effects of megadiversity on a community, should that come as any surprise?
|Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander||–||–||9.4%||10.0%|
|Two or more races||–||–||21.4%||23.6%|
The status of Puerto Rico, meanwhile, also had to be settled in the 1950s due to internal stability issues triggered by Puerto Rican nationalists—such as riots and assassination attempts—and the UN pushing for decolonization. In 1952 Puerto Ricans voted for Commonwealth status, which gave them self-government but no representation in the federal government (there may be some nuance I am unaware of but they have no Senators or Representatives as Puerto Rico isn’t a state). The UN is actually still mad at the United States though:
In 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011 the United Nations Special Committee on Decolonization passed resolutions calling on the United States to expedite a process "that would allow Puerto Ricans to fully exercise their inalienable right to self-determination and independence,” and to release all Puerto Rican political prisoners in U.S. prisons, to clean up, decontaminate and return the lands in the islands of Vieques and Culebra to the people of Puerto Rico, to perform a probe into U.S. human rights violations on the island and a probe into the killing by the FBI of pro-independence leader Filiberto Ojeda Rios.
According to their census, Puerto Rico is 75% White, but I imagine that’s not fooling anyone reading this article. While there are certainly Puerto Ricans of fully or enough European ancestry to be White in our sense of the term, race is conceptualized differently in Latin America and the Caribbean. Mulatto Dominicans are racist against black Haitians, obvious mestizos will fancy themselves White if they have a high enough standard of living, etc. And of course, our own government generally has no idea what to do with people from Latin America in its record-keeping, which includes Puerto Ricans. Hey, they said they were White, right? That’s what matters.
Although you didn’t need me to tell you this, genetic studies indicate that the Puerto Rican population is mixed-race:
A recent genetic DNA study conducted in Puerto Rico suggests that between 52.6% and 84% of the population possess some degree of Amerindian mtDNA in their maternal ancestry, usually in a combination with other ancestries. In addition, these DNA studies show Amerindian ancestry in addition to the Taíno.
One genetic study on the racial makeup of Puerto Ricans found them to be roughly around 61% West Eurasian (overwhelmingly of Spanish provenance), 27% Sub-Saharan African and 11% Native American. Another genetic study from 2007, claimed that "the average genomewide individual (ie. Puerto Rican) ancestry proportions have been estimated as 66%, 18%, and 16%, for European, West African, and Native American, respectively." Other study estimates 63.7% European, 21.2% (Sub-Saharan) African, and 15.2% Native American; European ancestry is more prevalent in the West and in Central Puerto Rico, African in Eastern Puerto Rico, and Native American in Northern Puerto Rico.
And according to DNA Tribes SNP Admixture Results by Population 2013, Puerto Ricans are 72.2% West Eurasian (49% European, 18.3% Saharan-Arabian, 4.9% West Asian), 12.7% Native American, 12.5% Sub-Saharan African, and 1.4% Northeast African.
Our own definition of White goes something like this.
A recent genetics ancestry survey by 23andme found that White Americans (European Americans) on average are: “98.6 percent European, 0.19 percent African and 0.18 percent Native American.”
The survey also found that Latinos are “18 percent Native American, 65.1 percent European and 6.2 percent African.” There might be a little self-selection here, resulting from testing more upper-class Hispanics, who tend to be more white. For instance, Rubén Lisker found the average admixture of a lower-income mestizos in Mexico City to be: 59% Amerindian, 34% European, and 6% black.
So most Puerto Ricans, a subset of Hispanics/Latinos, are not White in the sense that Anglo-Americans or Europeans are by a long shot; they’re only “White” relative to Latin America’s racial conceptions.
But now on to the big question, what do we do with Puerto Rico? Of all the issues on the table in the United States that the alt-right or White nationalists could have a position on, I expect this one to be extremely unanimous. Get rid of Puerto Rico. That’s at least 3M less Hispanic/Latino citizens and would make it harder for Puerto Ricans to immigrate to the United States and contribute to our demographic displacement. There are no racial arguments I can think of as to why we would want to keep Puerto Rico. We’d be on the Right Side of History™ too by participating in decolonization. As a nation and territory they were brought into the United States against their will, and we can let them go the same way. There shouldn’t need to be a referendum on this. Independence is justice. The empire is finished; why would we keep Puerto Rico but not the Panama Canal Zone or the Philippines? Also, hello? Re-legitimize secession? Where do I sign? We could cut the provisional government of Puerto Rico a check to help them transition to self-sovereignty for a few years, maybe sign a defense agreement, make Puerto Ricans in the United States chose which country they want citizenship in, and provide incentives for them to self-deport. We don’t want to be stuck with ties to non-white islands acquired during our imperial period that serve as immigration feeders in the 21st century. That’s just digging ourselves into a deeper hole.