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
"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
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 discounted the fear of many Puerto Ricans that statehood would mean
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
said, echoing many islanders' conviction that Texas is every bit as distinct as
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
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
"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.