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?

34 thoughts on “YO TAMBIEN”

  • Oh man. Every time the news makes reference to "3 million Americans in Puerto Rico", I instinctively think, "Wow, that's a big expat population." *Every* time. And then after another moment, I remember… I'm not proud of this. But yeah, I get it.

  • The history and sociology of that island is beyond comment section scope. Much has been recorded over the decades. Sorry, too brain dead to cite once familiar sources.

  • Inconstant Reader says:

    My understanding is that a majority of Puerto Ricans oppose the status quo, but they're split between those who want independence and those who want statehood. I wouldn't be surprised if the toxic neglect after the storm drives some of those who want to stay a territory into one of the other options. I hope they're able to choose one or the other, and the mainland government actually listens to them for once.

    And Ed, thanks for the fascinating history lesson. I never knew Irving was to blame for the "they thought the world was flat" bullshit.

  • John M. from Ct. says:

    I don't think you're being too sensitive – and you bring out a larger question. Why does a nation which defines itself as a union of states even 'own' any other territorial possessions? It's bad enough that our national map, by which we drill our geography into our children's heads, invariably sticks Hawaii and Alaska into boxes. But then there aren't any boxes at all in most maps of America for the 'possessions' whose inhabitants, as you note, are nevertheless Americans.

  • I thought Puerto Ricans were just Puerto Ricans, who live in bodegas and what have you! Are they real Americans or not, do they believes in FREEDOM?

  • This is why people always like to hedge their bets and write "continental United States" so that there isn't some weird catch that makes them sound silly, like that time the Japanese invaded an obscure Alaskan island so TECHNICALLY the US was invaded by Japanese forces.

  • My husband works for FEMA region IX, so I'm accustomed to thinking of Guam and the Marianas as part of the US. IIRC, Puerto Rico has voted several times on becoming a state, and the last couple of times the majority voted "yes." But the legislation failed to make it through the US Congress. I am not at all well-versed in US/PR history, but I wouldn't be surprised if it has something to do with how much money they "owe" us. Color me cynical. My only objection is how in the world we're going to arrange 51 stars symmetrically on the flag. Surely there is some math or pattern whiz who can resolve this conundrum.

  • After studying the US map with my data-loving first grader, I feel we should add a box, maybe in the lower right corner, that shows the territories.

    If it's not on the map, you don't 'see' it, you know?

  • John M. from Ct. says:

    Rattakin, it's a fun if trivial point. In fact, 51 is 3 x 17. 17 is 8 + 9. So a 51-state flag would have 6 rows of stars, alternating in lengths of 8 and 9. (The 50-state flag today has 5 rows of 6, alternating with 4 rows of 5). The proportions of the star field would be different from the present one, but the same thing happened in 1959 when we went from 48 (a clean 6 x 8 field) to 50!

  • Had a similar experience recently discussing the Australian space program with an Aussie colleague – I asked "isn't the country awfully far south for most orbits?"

    Turns out the mental map I was using wasn't the real one – it was the Risk board. o_O

  • Same old problem with redistricting. If PR were part of a state, which state would it be and could it be divided and melded with other electoral units?

    It really doesn't fit

    Maine and Florida should be in different countries, but the states in between vary just enough to make the connection seem reasonable.

    Hawaii should be another country, Alaska should be part of Canada…you see what I'm saying.

    History is a mess, humans can't agree on lunch; so don't worry too much about forgetting a connection between TR and Chris Columbus.

  • Yeah, I’ll bet there’s not a chance in hell with the current Congress voting PR in. I think there’s also a mechanism with the state legislatures? But that would be even worse.

    I’ve said for years that we should make all the territories states, or return them to native ownership. None of this in-between crap.

    It’s a fun exercise to remind all the frothing right-wingers that, should we refuse aid, millions of them *will* resettle in the States, being American citizens and all.

  • For what it's worth, for a long time I've thought that the territorial possession system is unconstitutional in that it deprives the American citizens there a representative form of government. The early 20th century Sup Ct cases which allow it are so incredibly racist (see John Oliver) that one would hope that even the current Supreme Court would reverse them.

    (I know, I'm kidding myself. The Supreme Court has been upholding the Insular cases consistently for the last 120 years.)

  • "I had to have seen it, so why didn't I see it?"

    occam's razor: you made simple mistake on a minor point and you cannot let it go. sometimes a cigar is just a cigar….oh wait we're talking about PR not Cuba.

  • "I am not at all well-versed in US/PR history, but I wouldn't be surprised if it has something to do with how much money they "owe" us. Color me cynical."

    I'm sorry but with a minor edit.

    "I am not at all well-versed in US/PR history, but I wouldn't be surprised if it has something to do with their color and how much welfare money they steal from us.".

    this is basically the "conservative" position re: PR becoming a state.

    Next thing you know they'll be sending them FEMA trailers, down there, 'stead of lettin' some good ol' ontrapanoorz buy 'em up for a buck-three-eighty and make some money!

    /s–just in case.

  • "so TECHNICALLY the US was invaded by Japanese forces."

    Yeah, there's that.

    Seems to me that we got Puerto Rico, Cuba, The Philipines and Guam on the pretext of freeing them from the yoke of Spanish oppression. I guess that, technically, we did free them from the yoke of Spanish oppression–I'm just not sure that a lot of them noticed their new freedom being radically different than their previous situation.

  • I think your response is reasonable and appropriate. Plus a footnote about Puerto Rico would have been even funnier and made the article better.

  • The same PR mistake is in West Side Story. Sondheim has a song in which the characters compare New York and Puerto Rico. And as much as I can appreciate a line like "wall to wall floors in America," the main message is that these characters came to America when they left Puerto Rico.

  • I remember a time, I think it was the 80's, when republicans wanted to make Puerto Rico a state because they believed that it would be theirs because the Hispanic people were overwhelmingly "pro-life" conservative Catholics. What happened to change that?

  • @ronzie; the Republican party became more batshit insane and even stupider than before, not to mention doubling down on racism. They don't want brown people to be "pro-life"; the Dominionist wing is trying to outbreed the non-whites.

  • If it's any consolation, Porto Ricans themselves haven't really acknowledged Columbus until recently. Ponce, named after Ponce de Leon, who governed the island for Spain, is the second largest city on the island, but there is no Colombo, Columbo or Columbia. A colossal statue of Columbus (360') was erected in Arecibo, P.R., only after Baltimore, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, New York City and Columbus, Ohio all turned it down.

  • Sheesh, man. I live in Alaska and was told by a shipping agent that they wouldn't ship outside of United States territory.

    And we actually have a star on the flag. And a Senator.

    I refuse to acknowledge Dan Sullivan or Don Young.

  • Trump should go down to PR and with Sting singing "If you love somebody, set them free" in the background and then announce "Viva Puerto Rico libre!"

  • I know I'm being a dick, but:

    "I feel badly about this."

    "You feel bad. Badly is an adverb. So to say you feel badly would be saying that the mechanism which allows you to feel is broken."

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