Posted by: SSU Lingua Franca | December 1, 2010

Are Puerto Ricans Americans?

Are Puerto Ricans Americans?

By Dr. Michele C. Dávila

Michele C. DávilaI can answer this question apparently very simply: yes and no. Sounds complicated? It is. Since the Jones Act of 1917, United States law dictates that all Puerto Ricans born on the island are American citizens. But after ninety three years, many people in the United States still don’t know this historical fact: that all Puerto Ricans born in Puerto Rico are as American (U.S. citizens) as they are. Let me tell you a story. I lived in Colorado for five years while I was doing my doctorate studies. One day, in a cafeteria an older couple heard my husband and me speaking as we usually do, me in Spanish, him in Portuguese, and asked us where we were from.  I answered we were from Puerto Rico and Brazil, respectively, and without batting an eye the man stated very proudly how glad he was that his country gave us asylum and that he hoped we were very happy in the United States. With a smile on my face I of course said yes, thank you (this happened before 9/11). And I know this is not an isolated case. Like this man, most Americans do not know that I am an American citizen by the laws of his own country, and mind you, I was born in New York City.

The political status of Puerto Rico is a big issue among Puerto Ricans, and nobody else seems to worry as much as we do about it.  Puerto Rico is too far away, they speak Spanish and they are poor, is the consensus in this country.  Meanwhile, in Latin America, Puerto Rico is perceived ambiguously.  They think they speak a strange language that mixes Spanish with English, have a lot of money, and are too Americanized.  Ironically, on the island of Puerto Rico Puerto Ricans believe that Puerto Ricans who were born or grew up on the mainland (the States) are too far away, poor, speak a strange language mixing Spanish with English, and are too Americanized.

The truth, as in most cases, is somewhere in the middle.  Puerto Ricans on the island have a distinctive Hispanic culture; their “Americanization” seems to be very similar to the cultural Americanization that exists globally.  There are rich and poor, just like everywhere else, have their own dialect as is the case in each Spanish-speaking country, with probably no more English expressions than in any other.  Puerto Rican – Americans share similarities but also differences with their island counterparts, mainly in terms of language; but in terms of identification and love with Hispanic culture, they are still firm and strong.

The reality is that Puerto Ricans on the island, although they are American citizens, don’t get to vote for the president of the United States and have local elections for their own congress and follow their own constitution; they use the U.S. dollar as currency but don’t have the right to establish economic trade agreements with any other country; they learn English since kindergarten but speak Spanish in every other class at school, as well as everywhere else; they have their own judicial system but can appeal to the Federal court; and, finally, they can display their own flag in the Olympics, although they are  not a sovereign nation.

So, in sum, in a country, Puerto Rico, that is not a nation-state, there is a people that are legally Americans (U.S. citizens) but who culturally are Hispanic, namely Puerto Rican.


  1. Sorry to contradict your doctorate opinion, according to the United Nations, Puerto Rico is a nation state, and it is the reason that Puerto Rico can log a complaint against the United States in the United States, whereas, none of the fifty states that make up the United States does not hold that right. In addition to that, Puerto Rico recently rule that the government of Puerto Rico can issue passports. The name of the country clear states what Puerto Rico is and the relationship it holds with the United States: “Un ESTADO LIBREUP asociado con los estados Unido (The common wealth (with the United States) of Puerto Rico.

    The Puerto Rican people initiated this relationship, since the British (the original gringo) landed in the island, and realized the island is located on a strategic location, at the food of Atlantic oceanic strands that run from the north European continent, down to the tip of Puerto Rico, leaving vessels to have to travel these extremely strong current, circle Puerto Rico before heading along the coast of the North American coast, as well those strands are the gateway to central and south America. As a result of this reality and that both the Spanish who had settle in Puerto Rico, and the British settling in the North American Continent also looked to break tie with the British monarchy (the two nations having parallel histories) aligned and thus, this is where the friendship beginning is formed. Today, every Puerto Rican born in the United States, and all born outside of the Island with at least one parent born in Puerto Rico hold implied duel citizenship; this is established by the Puerto Rican courts

    Puerto Ricians, both the Spaniards and welcomed the friendship of The pre-Federal union government because, the Spaniard supposed erroneously that upon gaining its independence from the British monarch, it would join forces with the Spaniards living on the island in gaining the island’s independence from Spanish Empire. The natives on the other hand looked to expel the Spaniard, from day one. Let’s not forget that it was a native island Indian that killed Christopher Columbus brother, when Christopher, left his brother with a contingent while he travelled back to Europe.

    Europeans have never become quite comfortable on the Island, because of this truth, and it can still be seen on the island, with most of the wealthier homes fortified with security gates, and what have you.

    Finally, the mannerism that pre-federal government military arm and its counter parts on the island communicated (warning of Europeans ships heading to the Americas) was through pigeon messaging. This is why, still today, and in the United States, homing birds is such a relevant sport. You can take this history to the bank.

    What I want to know is which Puerto Rican in their right mind would want Puerto Rico to become a state, seeing that the Puerto Ricans have been merged, in common wealth, and integrated in the northern continent, for nearly one hundred years, minus a couple of years, and still the Puerto Ricans are considered “Mexicans” by many and treated as underlings.

    How much have they failed me, let me count the ways:

  2. Thanks for your insightful article Michele. I whole-heartedly agree with your legally-cultural summation at the end.

  3. Puerto Rico will become the 51st state, which I strongly support, or completely independent.Anyone advocating for the status quo or “enhanced commonwealth” is promoting false pride.Stop being cowards and choose one or the other.God bless america.

  4. Do the citizens of Puerto Rico pay taxes to the United States?

  5. “Though the Commonwealth government has its own tax laws, Puerto Ricans are also required to pay most U.S. federal taxes, with the major exception being that most residents do not have to pay the federal personal income tax… The federal taxes paid by Puerto Rico residents include import/export taxes, Federal commodity taxes, social security taxes, among others. Residents also pay Federal payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare taxes.”

  6. I know from the DMV standpoint in NV – Puerto Ricans are treated like USA citizens…Their birth certificates are just as good as a USA citizens birth certificate and they have SS cards…so, yes, they are USA citizens. And, NV is one of the states that will not ever give a license to an illegal. At least Puerto Ricans are here legally and know it. Now I just wish they would not party until 2:00am and act like they own the neighborhood they live in – in Kissimmee and Orlando.

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