LAWRENCE — Juan M. Gonzalez and Domingo Melendez count themselves as among those Puerto Ricans living in the Merrimack Valley who want statehood for their island homeland.
“My love for Puerto Rico is strong, but I think being a state would do more good,” said Gonzalez of Lawrence.
“I think it’s time Puerto Rico becomes a state,” said Melendez, who moved to the mainland in 1963. “We’re one of the oldest territories in this part of the world and are treated as second-class citizens. It’s time we’re considered first-class citizens.”
The island has been a U.S. territory since 1917. It’s inhabitants are U.S. citizens but are prohibited from voting in presidential elections. On Nov. 6 they were not allowed to vote in the U.S. presidential election, but a slim majority of Puerto Ricans sought to change their ties with the United States and become the 51st state in a non-binding referendum that would require final approval from Congress.
The two-part referendum asked whether the island wanted to change its 114-year relationship with the United States. Nearly 54 percent, or 922,374 people, sought to change it, while 46 percent, or 786,749 people, favored the status quo.
The second question asked voters to choose from three options, with statehood by far the favorite, garnering 61 percent. Sovereign free association, which would have allowed for more autonomy, received 33 percent, while independence got 5 percent. President Barack Obama earlier expressed support for the referendum and pledged to respect the will of the people in the event of a clear majority. It is unclear whether U.S. Congress will debate the referendum results or if Obama will consider the results to be a clear enough majority.
Puerto Rico also held non-binding referendums in 1967, 1993 and 1998, with statehood never garnering a clear majority and independence never obtaining more than 5 percent of the vote.