Riffing on Political Capital
I’ve made a study of what makes people happy–no kidding. Years ago at school I surveyed people on the streets of D.C. and learned that, statistically, Americans’ happiness — “feeling free as the next person” — is determined by one thing more than any other: having a caring friend or neighbor. More than wealth or any other factor, personal friendship IS political currency. Here in Puerto Rico, people get that. I think that’s the main cultural difference I see and why I want to live here.
When I was last here in 2010, I talked to everyone I could about island politics. I found that many men and women here are very ambivalent about statehood. I know that people living in the States who come here to vacation find native Puerto Ricans’ ambivalence about statehood perplexing. It’s simple, really. The problem of statehood for the island really is a question of friendship. Economic opportunity may be important, but mutual friendship is the trump card here.
Here citizens face a conundrum: If they vote for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state, they will begin to pay federal taxes the island economy can ill afford. Puerto Ricans would gain actual representation in the U.S. Congress, of course. But at what cost? I believe that if Puerto Ricans trusted fellow U.S. citizens’ sincere friendship, a lot of their political ambivalence would disappear. Have we in the States been insincere? I think so. A friend — political or personal — will care enough to understand the other friend’s predicament. Do most people in the States know much at all about Puerto Rico’s politics or history? No! For us, colonial history starts with Jamestown and Plymouth, not La Navidad and Saint Augustine.
The Spanish culture here is enviable in many respects. The U.S. State Department could learn a lot about diplomacy from these folks –- and maybe actually gain back some of the political influence we’ve seemed to have lost abroad –- as well as here in the Caribbean.
Soon, I hope to meet his excellency, Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla. He’s forty-three, from rural Coamo, and went to law school here on the island. I already respect him. Why not reach out? Sure I need a job. But you can’t put a price on friendship, can you?