After the divorce I went to live with my maternal grandparents in the town of Defiance, Ohio. Defiance is in the northwestern part of the state, about 55 miles southwest of Toledo. Defiance’s economy is based on manufacturing a variety of products. My grandfather worked for GM, the largest employer in town. The General Motors Powertrain division in Defiance is the largest automotive iron foundry in North America. President Obama helped save this town with the auto bailout. Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a rally on the Defiance High school football field said that Jeep was “thinking of moving all production to China”. Then Romney introduced Meat Loaf. Chrysler issued a statement saying that “Jeep has no intention of shifting production of its Jeep models out of North America to China”. Still in this deeply conservative corner of the state, Romney got 55.49% of the vote and Obama only got 42.16%.
My childhood memories of Defiance were of a town like Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show. It was quiet, everybody knew everybody, and kids played safely in the street. The milkman stopped by first thing in the morning, the paperboy came by in the early afternoon and everyone went to church on Sunday. The people who lived on my street looked and acted like the Nelsons, or the Cleavers, The ideal that television presented to America. I did not feel normal in Defiance. I was the only kid on my street that lived with his grandparents. You couldn’t even say the word “divorce” out loud, that was like saying “cancer”. I asked my grandmother why my mom lives in California and my dad lives in Puerto Rico. Her answer, “They just don’t get along”. Although no one ever expressed it to me, I could see that the grownups in my neighborhood saw my family life as not normal or just flat out wrong and their traditional family units as normal or right.
When I was 7 years old I went into major culture shock when I went from living in Ohio to spending the school year with my mother in Los Angeles and the summer (plus every other Christmas) in Puerto Rico with my Father. When the shock wore off I saw that my life got an upgrade with travel benefits. Mom lived in the coolest city in the world and she worked for Motown records as an art director. Her office had a view of the Hollywood sign and I was on a first name basis with some of the world’s greatest recording artists. What could be better than that? Well my dad in Puerto Rico had remarried, I had a new baby brother and most importantly he was giving me the stable home environment that I needed. There I had a family life that was normal. My definition of “Normal” back then was modeled by the families I saw living in Ohio. By the time Labor Day rolled around I would be told by my dad that it was time to “Go back to the states” and my normalcy ended.
When I was eight years old I learned that there was a political party on the island (The New Progressive Party or PNP) that was dedicated to making Puerto Rico a state. I thought that this was perfect. If Puerto Rico becomes a state, I would never have to “Go back to the states”. I could have my cake and eat it too. It made sense in my eight year old mind. I also thought that the island’s one English TV station WTSJ TV channel 18 that had recently gone off the air would have to come back. Yes, I saw statehood for Puerto Rico as an easier goal to reach that my parents reaching some kind of reconciliation.
As I got older I always kept an eye on Puerto Rican politics especially during their status plebiscites. The three main choices presented to Puerto Rican voters are Statehood, Maintaining the current Commonwealth status or Independence. In 1993 statehood got 46.3% of the vote. In 1998 statehood got 46.49% of the vote. There also was a plebiscite in 1967 where statehood got only 39.0% of the vote but back then I was more interested in Mr. Moose dropping ping pong balls on Captain Kangaroo. On Election Day 2012 my TV was tuned in to Rachel Maddow and my laptop was surfing results of the election in Puerto Rico where this year Puerto Rican voters were asked whether they agreed to continue with Puerto Rico’s territorial status and to indicate the political status they preferred from three possibilities: statehood, independence, or a sovereign nation in free association with the United States. I am not a sports guy. This is my sports. I have a bottle of champagne and a bottle of Jack Daniels and depending on the results, one of the two bottles would be opened. MSNBC called Ohio for Obama and subsequently declared him the winner. Fox followed, with CNN several minutes later and I popped the champagne cork. Obama won a second term. On Puerto Rico’s non-binding referendum on the status question, 54% voted to reject the current status and 61% favored statehood as the preferred alternative. Imagine my glee.
A lot has to happen before we start buying 51 star flags made in China. There are developments happening as I am writing this so I’ll present a Reader’s Digest condensed understanding of where we are now. President Obama has said that he will support the will of Puerto Ricans if there is a clear majority. Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner (a non-voting member of the United States House of Representatives elected by the voters of Puerto Rico every four years), Pedro Pierluisi, has said that he will “defend the people’s decision” in Washington, D.C. and introduced legislation in Congress to admit Puerto Rico to the Union. Puerto Rico’s pro-commonwealth governor-elect Alejandro García Padilla has questioned the validity of the results and wrote a letter to the President of the United States addressing the results of the voting, asking him to reject the results because of their ambiguity. Even Ricky Martin chimed in and called for a democratic movement that truly represents Puerto Ricans. Finally, the United States Congress would be required to pass any necessary legislation to begin the transition into Statehood. In other words, “Hurry up and wait”.
As for me, I still think that Puerto Rico should be a state. We earned it for the simple reason that Puerto Ricans have worn the uniform of the United States Armed Forces in every conflict in which the United States has been involved since World War I. I strongly feel that all United States citizens residing in Puerto Rico should have the same rights, benefits, and responsibilities as those enjoyed by all other citizens living on the mainland, and be entitled to full representation in Congress (six congressmen, two U.S. senators) and to participate in the Presidential elections (eight presidential electoral votes). Finally, after almost forty years the eight year old in me will finally feel “Normal”.