Democrats in Congress earlier this month introduced the Puerto Rico Self-Determination Act of 2021.
It calls for the creation of a “status convention” of delegates elected by Puerto Rican voters that would ultimately determine the island’s long-term territorial status, whether that be statehood, independence, or perhaps a variation on the current arrangement.
At present, Puerto Ricans living on the island are U.S. citizens but are not permitted to vote in presidential elections.
Marilia Gutierrez was born and raised in Puerto Rico but now makes her home in Chicago. She says Puerto Ricans are ready to have the island’s long-term status settled.
“I think most people want to resolve this issue. To come to some sort of resolution of our status,” said Gutierrez, who herself favors full independence for the island.
Gutierrez says it is Puerto Ricans in the diaspora who are the driving force behind the Self-Determination Act. But she says Puerto Ricans who remain on the island are opposed to having people who don’t live there being part of the final decision on the island’s future.
“My desire as a Puerto Rican born and raised in Puerto Rico who emigrated 20-25 years ago, my wish would be that yes I would like to have a say,” said Gutierrez, “But that has been shut down so many times. People on the island – and it’s all about this colonial mentality – say that there is no way that they are going to allow people that have migrated to have a say at all. I don’t think that’s fair. I think we should have a seat at that table as well.”
Edilberto Cheverez was born and raised in Chicago after his parents came to the city from Puerto Rico in search of work. Now retired, he and his wife split their time between Chicago and the island. Many in his family are pro-independence. He is opposed but says the current relationship with the United States does need to be reformed.
“If you were to push me for an answer I would say commonwealth with some changes,” said Cheverez.
Given the island’s long and complicated history with the United States, he does not want to a see that relationship severed completely. His brother served in the U.S. military and now rests in Arlington National Cemetery. Cheverez also has reservations about statehood.
“One of the things I fear is Puerto Rico losing its identity (if it chose statehood),” says Cheverez. “We’d be just another state. Just another star on the flag. We don’t want to lose our culture.”