Posted by Deirdre Oakley, OLD SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO -- Walking around Old San Juan a colleague and I stumbled upon a row of imposing bronze statues of United States presidents. But we soon discovered that there were only nine. We began hypothesizing about why only nine, first by focusing on who they were: Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, Franklin Roosevelt (and his beloved dog), Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford, and Barack Obama. An explanation eluded us until we read the introductory plaque, which we probably should have done in the first place. It turns out that this "Paseo de los Presidentes" on the south side of Puerto Rico's Capitol building pays homage to those sitting presidents who visited Puerto Rico over the years, President Obama being to most recent.
This led us to contemplate an even more perplexing question: why have only nine U.S. presidents visited Puerto Rico since it became a U.S. territory after the Spanish-American War of 1898? And why the huge time gap between President Gerald Ford's visit in the 1970s and President Obama's in 2011? That's a gap of about 35 years and spans the presidencies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush.
But Puerto Ricans are U.S. Citizens, although they cannot vote in the general presidential elections. In fact, at the unveiling of President Obama's statue in 2012, Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi said that while the Obama Administration has supported the territory with economic stimulus funding, he highlighted the fact that as U.S. citizens Puerto Ricans have limited voting rights. Pierluisi, who represents the territory in the U.S. Congress, is a supporter of Puerto Rico becoming a state so its four million citizens can enjoy expanded voting rights. Maybe then more U.S. presidents will visit.
Deirdre Oakley is the Editor of Social Shutter and an Associate Professor in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.