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Miguel Perez
Miguel Perez
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Saint Santorum in San Juan

Comment

On his way to Puerto Rico, at least in a hastily conducted briefing, you would think that someone would have reminded Rick Santorum not to mess with the Spanish language. You would think someone would have told him that fear of losing their language and culture is the main reason Puerto Ricans consistently have rejected becoming the 51st state of the union.

Better yet, since he claims he was very close to Puerto Rico when he was a U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania, since he calls himself a "Senador Puertorriqueño," you would think Santorum would have known how to avoid putting both feet in his mouth when he arrived in San Juan.

But nah, we never should underestimate the Republican presidential candidates' talent for alienating Latino voters.

Shortly after arriving in Puerto Rico last week, to campaign for Sunday's primary there, Santorum ignited a political firestorm by telling several local news outlets that he supports statehood, but only if Puerto Ricans accept English as their main language.

While Puerto Ricans recognize both English and Spanish as their official languages, Spanish remains the predominant language, and Santorum's comments were widely received with outrage.

If there was one thing Santorum could not say in Puerto Rico, that was it! From that point on, the time he remained on the island was completely wasted. He should have turned around and got back on the next airplane.

Instead of promoting the statehood cause, he gave powerful ammunition to its opponents and may have set it back for many years.

Amazingly, in an interview with El Vocero newspaper, he seemed to suggest — quite erroneously — that English was a federal requirement for statehood.

"As in any other state, you have to comply with this and any federal law. And that is that English has to be the main language," Santorum reportedly told the newspaper on Wednesday. "There are other states with more than one language as is the case in Hawaii, but to be a state in the United States, English has to be the main language," he added.

Not only was he offending Puerto Ricans but blaming his insensitivity on laws that don't exist. There is not requirement for a territory to impose English as its primary language in order to become a state, and the U.S. Constitution doesn't even designate an official language.

Perhaps that's the reason why Mitt Romney, who had his own problems with Puerto Ricans for criticizing the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, was able to beat Santorum in a resounding landslide — 83 to 8 percent — and take all of the island's 20 delegates in Sunday's primary.

Newt Gingrich got 2 percent of the vote and Ron Paul scored 1 percent.

For Santorum, who often appears to be running for pope instead of president, and who was expected to score big among Puerto Rico's Catholics and evangelists, this was a huge blow.

Santorum's comments came at a time when Puerto Rico is readying for yet another plebiscite to determine if they want their island to become a state. On Nov.6, the same day we'll be voting for president, Puerto Ricans will be voting on whether they should pursue statehood, independence or retain their current commonwealth relationship with the United States.

Ironically, although they just voted in a presidential primary, the island's 4 million residents are not allowed to vote for president in the general election. Such are the shortcomings of the commonwealth status and the reason why many Puerto Ricans favor statehood. They would like to be able to vote for president, not just in the primaries.

Nevertheless, the way presidential candidates behave in Puerto Rico can certainly influence the voting pattern of more than 4 million other Puerto Ricans who live on the mainland.

Remember when the GOP candidates would tell us that their only problem was with undocumented immigrants, not other Latinos? Remember when some Puerto Ricans felt that, since they are born American citizens, they were immune from the GOP's xenophobia mongering?

Well, when two candidates went to Puerto Rico last week, island residents were reminded of why most mainland Puerto Ricans traditionally vote for Democrats and why they too would have to vote for President Barack Obama in the general election — if they only could.

If Puerto Rico became a state, there is no doubt that it would be blue.

While Santorum doesn't accept the idea that a Spanish-speaking territory could become the 51st state, Romney went to Puerto Rico and immediately displayed the opportunistic, flip-flopping behavior we have come to expect from him.

As soon as he arrived in San Juan Friday, amid the Santorum language firestorm, Romney wasted no time announcing that he would have "no preconditions" on language for Puerto Rico to gain statehood.

Yet, for a candidate who only in January had vowed to make English the official language of the federal government, that sound terribly hypocritical. How could he impose English on the country and not on Puerto Rico if it became a state?

Puerto Ricans who fear losing the Spanish language are rightfully scared by GOP proposals to make English official at the federal level. After all, "official English" is mostly a xenophobic campaign to suppress the Spanish language.

And now, with the new sermon from Saint Santorum and additional hypocrisy from flip-flopping Romney, "official English" will be an even bigger obstacle to statehood in Puerto Rico — and reaffirmed reason for mainland Latinos to continue to vote overwhelmingly Democratic.

To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2012 CREATORS.COM



Comments

4 Comments | Post Comment
Anyone who wants to be a US Citizen takes an oath of allegience. Miguel is a promoter of divisiveness.
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Henricks
Tue Mar 20, 2012 11:19 AM
Miguel, as with practically everything, you write, I could not have said it better. I am very proud of you. Blessings to you and yours.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Dr. Eladio Jose Armesto
Wed Mar 21, 2012 10:50 AM
Re: David Henricks
I don't understand how being in favor of everyone having the right to speak the language of their choice in a free country is promoting divisiveness. How is having the ability to speak a language besides English a lack of allegiance? Another point of view I really don't understand. An article just came out in the NY Times discussing studies that prove that being bilingual is good for the brain, maybe everyone should consider learning how to speak another language rather than discouraging those who do.
Comment: #3
Posted by: miriam
Wed Mar 21, 2012 10:54 AM
Re: miriam I am not against anyone speaking the language of their choice. I against forcing tax-payers to pay for multi-language documents and signs. It's a poor way to run anything.
Comment: #4
Posted by: David Henricks
Wed Mar 21, 2012 11:13 AM
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