YO TAMBIEN

Posted in Quick Hits on October 16th, 2017 by Ed

I'm mildly sad that the recent Nation piece about Columbus now has a correction.

In emphasizing that there is no obvious historical connection between Christopher Columbus and colonial America at the time Columbus surged to popularity, I pointed out that Columbus set foot in no part of the United States as it is today while other explorers of his era did. This is not technically true. On a subsequent voyage (not his 1492 "discovery" one), Columbus landed in Puerto Rico.

Now. Allow me to be defensive for a moment. I'm good at it. Point to follow.

Part of the issue here was where and how I did my research / fact-checking, focusing (obviously too much) on the famous 1492 voyage. And, as the editor kindly agreed, this factual error did not subvert the argument in the paper. Nobody in 1770s America thought of Puerto Rico (which would not become part of the US for more than a century) as Columbus's claim to American soil. Chances are they didn't even know Puerto Rico existed.

But. More importantly, I did something that the vast majority of Americans probably do a lot: I forgot about Puerto Rico. That's all there is to it. I looked at it at some point, going over lists of Columbus's voyages and landings. And I simply did not register "United States" when I saw "Puerto Rico."

I feel badly about this. Not only for making an error in a piece people actually saw, but for consistently forgetting about the people who live in parts of the United States that are not states. Perhaps I'm projecting, and in reality you think about Guam and the Virgin Islands and the CNMI all the time. I suspect not, though. Hell, there are people in elected and appointed positions in the federal government who forget they exist on a regular basis.

Intellectually I know Puerto Rico residents are Americans. If you asked me, I would say yes without hesitation. But the point is, I obviously haven't internalized it well enough in 38 years for my radar to pick it up when I'm scanning a list of place names for parts of the United States. Even with PR in the news constantly for the last few weeks, I/we still think about it as Not Quite.

Maybe it's time to do something about the second-class status of the island, which might help the rest of us not treat it like a second-class citizen. Part of me thinks I'm making too big a deal out of missing something on a fact check, but there's something subconscious at work here. I had to have seen it, so why didn't I see it?