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Jewish World Review /May 4, 1998 / 8 Iyar, 5758

Don Feder

Don Feder Anglo-saxon me

I am a Protestant, white, Anglo-Saxon nativist --- according to Carlos Romero-Barceló, Puerto Rico's non-voting delegate in Congress. This will come as news to my rabbi.

Would Romero-Barceló allow me to be a Jewish, white, Anglo-Saxon nativist -- if I promise not to burn a bagel on his lawn?

In an April 28 speech on the House floor, Romero-Barceló indicted opposition to the Puerto Rican statehood referendum bill, which passed the House by a single vote in March. If enacted, the measure would allow a bare majority of the island's voters to set it on the road to statehood.

The closeness of the vote, Romero-Barceló confided, was due to prejudice and paranoia: "In the nativist mindset, the 3.8 million American citizens of Puerto Rico do not belong in this union because they do not walk, talk and look like the nativist of the hour."

And who are these know-nothings? "In the mid-1800s, a nativist was a Protestant, white, Anglo-Saxon male. ... Perhaps the profile of a nativist today is the same," Romero-Barcelo speculates.

He then names me as a nattering nabob of nativism.

"Just listen to what nativists say will happen if Puerto Rico becomes a state," the congressman urges. He quotes my April 5 column, "'Granting statehood to a land that is alien to us in most ways,' declares Don Feder of the Boston Herald, 'will be a milestone on the road to national dissolution."'

Those are my words -- and I'm grateful to have them read into the Congressional Record.

Regrettably, Romero-Barceló overlooked a few other notorious Anglo-Saxons opposed to Puerto Rican statehood: Jorge Amselle (of the Center for Equal Opportunity), Mauro E. Mujica (chairman of U.S. English) and Linda Chavez, (former staff director of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission).

"Making Puerto Rico a state not only is a monumentally bad idea, but undermines everything the Republican Congress has sought to do," writes Amselle (AKA: Reginald Van Cleese III?) in National Review.

Chavez charges that statehood "could cost billions in increased federal aid and permanently alter the culture of the United States." Apparently, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants aren't the only ones who care about cultural continuity.

Mujica's organization has produced a well-documented, 20-page white paper -- "Avoiding an American Quebec: The Future of Puerto Rico and the United States."

In his 1978 book, Statehood Is for the Poor, Romero-Barceló gave away the game when he argued that the change would entitle the island to an additional $3 billion annually in public assistance, due to its poverty (half of all families earn less than $10,000 a year) and unemployment. Give us your teeming masses, yearning to suck up welfare.

But economics is the least of our nativist concerns.

Over 80 percent of Puerto Ricans don't speak English. Spanish would be the new state's official language, de facto or de jure. This would put America on the slippery slope to becoming a bilingual nation (eliminating the one factor that's united our diverse people). Hispanic activists have pushed bilingualism for years, especially in states with large Latino populations.

Puerto Ricans have a distinct language, culture and national identity, all of which makes them unlikely candidates for assimilation and Americanization -- two things us country-club types prize greatly.

In a 1997 poll conducted by American Viewpoint Inc., residents of the island were asked, "Do you consider yourself to be Puerto Rican or American?" "American," said 16 percent. "Both," answered 18 percent. An overwhelming 65 percent said they thought of themselves exclusively as Puerto Rican.

Quebec isn't the only model for the new state. The island has a small, but passionate independence movement. Some of the groups pushing nationhood tap into a terrorist tradition dating back to the 1950s, when independence-seekers ventilated five congressmen in the very chamber where Romero-Barceló spoke.

In 1990, would-be revolutionary Carlos Ayes told The New York Times: "Statehood will mean war. If the United States wants its very own Northern Ireland, let them continue this farce."

Poverty, language barriers, cultural separatism and nationalism are volatile matters that can't be avoided by name-calling. I challenge Romero-Barceló to a debate on Puerto Rican statehood, at a neutral forum of his choice. This presupposes that he's capable of discussing the subject without using words like "white," "Protestant," "Anglo-Saxon" or "nativist" -- at best, a dubious assumption.


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©1998, Boston Herald; distributed by Creators Syndicate, Inc.