Linguistic Colonialism: Law, Independence, and Language Rights in Puerto Rico
27 Pages Posted: 23 Aug 2010 Last revised: 14 Oct 2015
Date Written: August 20, 2010
Events surrounding Puerto Rico’s 2004 and 2008 gubernatorial elections highlight two of the problems that exemplify the current state of linguistic colonialism that characterizes the relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico. One arose from the requirement that federal jurors be proficient in English, a mandate that conflicts with the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a jury representing a fair cross-section of the community. The other stemmed from a lack of anticipation of the existence of an English-speaking minority in a territory ruled by the United States, compelling the district court to struggle for authority to order bilingual ballots for the island’s English-speaking minority.
This essay supplements existing arguments for Puerto Rico’s independence with an analysis of the inability to reconcile language, constitutional, and statutory rights in either the present Commonwealth or, in the event that the United States fully incorporated the island, under statehood. While resolution of Puerto Rico’s status remains pending, ad hoc solutions for crises fueled by the limits of United States law are unacceptable. Instead, the United States must overhaul the legal rules and procedures that adversely affect the island, to maintain respect for both the long-held territory and the integrity of American law.
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