Puerto rico government

Young residents of the territory reject ‘American’, question US citizenship

  • The United States has five territories: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands.
  • Insider spoke to residents who reject the label “American” and have mixed feelings about their US citizenship.
  • Instead, many residents of the Millennium US Territory choose island-specific or regional identifiers.
  • Visit the Insider homepage for more stories.

Tihu Lujan knows a thing or two about barbecue grills and fireworks in July.

Each year, the 24-year-old writer sees the U.S. Territory of Guam host its largest annual party to commemorate a major military victory with a summer carnival and a spectacular parade.

There are beauty queens, music, and statements of patriotism. The island of 160,000 US citizens roughly mirrors small town America on Independence Day. Except that’s not what the Guamanians celebrate.

Instead, they come together for Liberation Day on July 21, which commemorates the date the U.S. armed forces ended the Japanese occupation during World War II. The festivities are much bigger locally than July 4th. This is one of the peculiarities of living in one of the territories of the United States – or colonies, depending on who you ask – in 2021.

Despite all the talk about “fellow Americans” living on these islands, there are young people there who feel more deeply connected to their local cultures and histories than to American identity.

Insider spoke to millennials who reject the “American” label and have complicated feelings about their American citizenship.

Islanders said the United States had never treated their territories equally

guam i love guam mural

TAMUNING, GUAM – AUG 14: A pedestrian walks past a mural on August 14, 2017 in Tamuning, Guam. The U.S. territory of Guam remains on high alert as the clash between the U.S. and North Korea continues. North Korea has said it plans to launch four missiles near Guam by mid-August. Guam is home to approximately 7,000 US troops and 160,000 residents.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

In Lujan’s case, he sees the affinity of Liberation Day on Independence Day as just a representation of this disconnect.

“I’m Chamorro. I don’t think I ever really said I was American. It’s hard to feel we’re American when we’ve seen more side effects [of being part of the U.S.] than what most Americans have, ”Lujan told Insider.

“Of course it’s hard to be the people who are screaming, ‘It’s not fair, your life is better, you have better services and privileges’ when we have been kind of ‘saved’ by the America, ”he added. is always an air of guilt when I put the Chamorros and Guam above America. But being Chamorro and being in Guam, I think that’s fair. “

Today, the United States has five territories inhabited by nearly four million people: American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.

All residents are US citizens with limited rights, except in American Samoa, where Islanders are considered “non-US nationals”. Islanders learn English and American history, pay federal taxes like Social Security and Medicare, and serve in the United States military.

But due to their unincorporated status, residents of these territories are not allowed to vote for the president and have no electoral representation in Congress.

The latter means that often the problems that impact the territories are not taken into account.

From Guam in the face of a constant threat of a North Korean nuclear attack to the slow pace of disaster assistance for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands in the wake of devastating hurricanes under the Trump administration, this erasure is contributing to a feeling of otherness for young people like Lujan.

“People don’t know how much of an impact decisions made in Washington and at the federal level really impact us, who are American citizens but have very limited autonomy,” he told Insider.

Lujan added that “it doesn’t help when these people have never been here, have a very limited understanding of life here.”

“However, the decisions they make affect the price of our gas, the price of our groceries, the quality of our natural resources and the environment,” he said.

It is true that many Islanders identify as Americans and take pride in their political relationship with the United States. In Puerto Rico, 53% of voters in the last election voted “yes” in a non-binding referendum asking if they wanted to become a state.

Representative Stacey Plaskett of the U.S. Virgin Islands led the charge by calling on Congress to allow residents of the territories to vote in federal elections. American Samoa has the highest military enlistment rate in the country and Guam is proud of its official slogan, “Where America’s Day Begins”.

But the disconnect felt by people who do not identify as American stems in part from the fact that the United States never truly viewed its colonies as equal to states, both in theory and in practice.

A list of early 20th-century U.S. Supreme Court decisions, known as Island Affairs, determined that the territories “belonged to the United States, but were not part of it” and that their citizens could only have access to limited constitutional rights. The court’s conclusion at the time was that the territories were “inhabited by foreign races”, and therefore governing them “on Anglo-Saxon principles may for a time be impossible”.

More than 98% of the inhabitants of these islands are still racial or ethnic minorities.

A century later, the business has still not been overturned, unlike other racist decisions of this time, such as Plessy v. Ferguson.

There is also little knowledge in most states about the “American Companions” in the Caribbean and Southwest Pacific.

In 2017, nearly half of Americans did not know Puerto Ricans were US citizens. And during the roll call of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, tweets abounded where shocked American users freely admitted just to learn that the Northern Mariana Islands were a territory.

Many inhabitants of the territory identify more with their islands

protest of porto rico

Protesters demonstrate against Ricardo Rossello, the governor of Puerto Rico, on July 19, 2019 in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. There have been calls for the governor to step down after it was revealed that he and his top aides were part of a private discussion group containing misogynistic and homophobic messages.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Ana * experienced the effects of this ignorance first-hand. The small business owner grew up in a pro-state household in Puerto Rico, learning that the United States of America was the best place in the world.

But once she went to college in Ohio, she experienced culture shock.

She barely had an accent in English and could recite the words of the Star Spangled Banner in her sleep. Her classmates, however, found it hard to believe that the island of 3.2 million U.S. citizens had access to modern amenities, including cobblestone roads to the internet.

Their ignorance was particularly biting as she felt she had to learn English and American history as a child. The more questions her classmates asked, the more Ana felt they did not come from a place of sincerity.

“Over time, and as the comments came in,” the 29-year-old told Insider.

“I realized that there was no real point in learning. It was more of a fascination with the little foreign girl who looks like that and could pass for one of us”, a- she said, acknowledging that she was going white in a way that Brown and Black boric are not.

“We’re just a footnote in American history. It shattered that idea I had [of being American,]”she added.

After college, Ana returned to Puerto Rico and became much more politically active. She also reexamined her relationship to Americanity.

“What brings me the closest to myself as an American now is when I reluctantly say I have American citizenship,” she said. “Puertorriqueña or caribeña feel like more precise descriptors, ”using the Spanish terms for Puerto Rican or Caribbean.

Ana is not alone. Jelmarie Maldonado also experienced a similar awakening. At 19, she attended a life-changing conference in Prague, where she felt closer to the Latin American attendees than to those from the United States.

Our US passport is marked with an asterisk. You have it but you really are not. Jelmarie Maldonado

Until then, the digital media strategist had been raised in Puerto Rico to see herself primarily as American. At home, she spoke English and preferred American pop music to salsa and merengue.

But during the conference, she didn’t feel out of place with other Americans, and she had to explain all too often the complicated relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States.

“The reminder that we are second-class citizens was so vivid that I started to gravitate around our music, our cultural icons,” she said. “I started to learn things that we didn’t learn in school about [pro-independence leader] Pedro Albizu Campos, the story of the Puerto Rican revolutionaries. “

More than a decade after the trip to Prague, Maldonado continues to explore her connection to her ancestral home, even now in Connecticut where she is based.

For many, the truth is that from Guam to Puerto Rico, the islanders have retained a strong sense of national identity and traditions, regardless of their political relations with the United States and their efforts to further Americanize the territories.

This connection to their culture may seem ungrateful to some, but Lujan, the writer from Guam, disagreed, confident “that it is difficult to feel that we are a fellow American when we do not benefit from all of us. the rights and privileges of every American “.

“We’re kind of half-like Americans in some ways and at times, especially to ourselves and our part of the world,” Lujan said.

Maldonado thinks a lot about how often Americans in all 50 states don’t know what to do with the millions of people who live in the territories. They don’t understand the cultures of the islands and don’t understand that their American citizenship is just not equal.

“Our US passport is marked with an asterisk,” she said. “You have it but you are not really he. “

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