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Why Isn’t Puerto Rico a State Yet?

In a seminar on American Empire, it is necessary to address both the European and the American definitions of the term “empire”. There are differences that supposedly separate monarchical thirst from the magnanimous spread of democracy; and there are similarities that question the inclusion of “alien races” into the sanctum of the rights and privileges of citizenship. In these differences, we see that the addition of sovereign states into the Union – on equal footing with the original thirteen – has allowed the American Empire to grow and flourish. In the similarities, we see America’s definition of empire as an opportunity to exclude peoples almost as often as it includes them.

This unit will delve into the 51st state question and highlight Puerto Rico’s dubious current status as it relates to citizenship, rights, and desire for statehood. There will be a focus on the historical treatment of peoples - and their territories - marginalized beginning at the turn of the 20th century: Latinos, African Americans, and Polynesians. Court cases, public debate, war treaties, and Congressional documents will frame the debate from the varied sides for, against, or uncertain. The culmination of the unit will be a scenario where learners will make the decision on what America should have done and should do currently and in the future vis-à-vis its supranational territories. The material is suitable for secondary learners in either an American History or Civics/Social Science class.

Meagan C. Rubino
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