December 12, 1998
Spanish-English debate at the heart of Puerto Rico referendum

                  SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) -- Must a country have a unifying language
                  to survive? Can a Spanish-speaking island, with its own proud culture, really
                  join the United States?

                  For pro-English master lobbyist Mauro Mujica, it was a pretty simple call:
                  When he emigrated from Chile 35 years ago, he learned English, and that
                  was that. He's here this week telling Puerto Ricans that given their fierce
                  devotion to Spanish, it would be folly to join English-speaking America.

                  "I believe in the melting pot," said Mujica, an ex-architect who heads the
                  "U.S. English" lobby. "The U.S. is a multicultural country, but we all have
                  one thing in common: our common language. Countries with multiple
                  languages have multiple problems."

                  For statehooders, this is the key point they absolutely had to dismantle to
                  stand any chance of winning in Sunday's nonbinding referendum on whether
                  Puerto Rico should petition Congress to become the 51st state. Polls show
                  the contest is in a dead heat.

                  Advocates of statehood have been portraying the United States as a
                  collection of ethnicities and culture. Puerto Rico is no different, they say,
                  from many other states whose incorporation into the union was perhaps
                  rocky but proved ultimately successful.

                  In an interview, Economic Development Secretary Carlos Vivoni argued that
                  Puerto Rico's cultural profile could be an asset to the United States in its
                  globalization push, and as it looks to the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

                  "We could become the business and cultural translator for (U.S.) companies
                  venturing into those (Latin American) economies, and I think we could do
                  the same for South American companies wanting to venture into the U.S.,"
                  he said.

                  He discounted the fear of many Puerto Ricans that statehood would mean a
                  loss of their culture and the imposition of English -- which perhaps a quarter
                  of the Puerto Rican population speaks well.

                  "To those who (say) that if we become a state we are going to be overtaken
                  by the American culture, I snap back with: Which of the American cultures?
                  Italians in Philadelphia? Poles in Milwaukee? Cubans in Miami? Japanese in
                  Hawaii? Mexican-Americans in Texas?

                  "If Texas can be a state and assert its unique cultural identity, so can we," he
                  said, echoing many islanders' conviction that Texas is every bit as distinct as
                  Puerto Rico.

                  He noted that New Mexico became a state despite its majority Hispanic
                  population, that Florida was accepted into the union despite concerns about
                  its poverty and that Alaska's statehood movement had to overcome
                  substantial local opposition.

                  When Mujica argues his case against Puerto Rican statehood, he invokes
                  other states too -- but they're headed the other way: They're following
                  Puerto Rico's lead and, with immigrants streaming in from Mexico, moving
                  away from English.

                  "Puerto Rico has its own culture, music, food, everything," he said, citing a
                  U.S. English poll in which 65 percent of island respondents said they were
                  primarily Puerto Rican. Only 16 percent said American, while 18 percent
                  said both.

                  "If the United States swallows up a Latin American nation, how would it
                  affect the country? What would stop New Mexico or Arizona from
                  declaring themselves Spanish-speaking? It would open the door to what
                  we're trying to avoid."

                   Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.