Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila said an improved form of Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status was the best option for the future of Puerto Rico and the interests of the United States, in a speech Tuesday night in the Marvin Center Amphitheater.
The Student Activities Center hosted Vila as part of its Leadership Lecture Series, sponsored in part by New York Life. The Resident Commissioner spoke in front of about 50 people about his role in the United States government, the meaning of Puerto Rico’s commonwealth status and his ideas about the island’s role in the 21st century.
As Resident Commissioner for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Vila is the sole representative of Puerto Rico in the U.S. House of Representatives. Though not permitted to vote on the House floor, the Resident Commissioner participates in debates and can serve on congressional committees.
Vila outlined three common ideas about what the classification of Puerto Rico should be – a commonwealth, a state within the union, and an independent nation-state. He also explained why he feels that an enhanced commonwealth status is the superior choice.
“I favor commonwealth not because it is perfect, but because it is the best realistic option for the Puerto Rico and the United States,” he said.
He spoke at length about how statehood is unpopular among Puerto Ricans and incompatible with what he called Puerto Rico’s unique cultural identity.
“I speak of nationhood in a sociological sense, and in that sense, Puerto Rico is today its own nation,” Vila said. “We don’t call ourselves Puerto Rican Americans. We call ourselves Puerto Ricans.”
He also said the United States might find it difficult to integrate Puerto Rico into the country’s cultural sphere.
“I support multiculturalism, but this is different,” Vila said. “Is the United States ready to become a multinational state? We’re not talking about accepting a new minority group. This is about identity.”
Vila stressed that while statehood would have many advantages, such as full representation in Congress, maintaining Puerto Rico’s cultural values outweighed the benefits.
“These are the tradeoffs you have to make,” Vila said. “If you ask me which is better, having Senators or preserving your identity, I’m going to choose identity.”
After the Resident Commissioners address, students said they were better informed about Puerto Rico and its position in relation to the United States.
“I thought (the speech) was really interesting,” sophomore Willis Bruckermann said. “I wasn’t sure exactly what commonwealth status meant for the island and its people.”
Sophomore Ellen Bernstein said she was surprised that statehood was such an unpopular idea in Puerto Rico.
“I really had no idea what Puerto Ricans themselves wanted in terms of commonwealth status or statehood,” she said.