online publication Pasquines aims to bridge the gap between the United States and its territories | Top countries
Some 3.5 million Americans cannot vote for the president who represents them; nor can their representatives in Congress vote for policies that affect their constituents. A news agency is working to ensure that the issues in the five US territories with permanent residents – Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands – resonate in the halls of Congress.
Founded in 2013 by William José Vélez González, a Puerto Rican native and former National Executive Vice President of the Puerto Rico State Student Association, Pasquines is an online publication aimed at ending the disconnect between states. United States and its territories. Taking the name from the term used to describe the political flyers plastered around Puerto Rico, the publication hopes to highlight the territories’ conditions with the same persistence as Puerto Rico’s pasquines. flyers.
In an interview with US News and World Report, González describes how he created Pasquines both as a resource for policymakers and as a model for more inclusive American journalism. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What made you want to start this project?
In college, I became involved with the Puerto Rico State Student Association, an advocacy group calling for statehood. From there, I noticed the issues that inspired me to create Pasquines.
William Jose Velez Gonzalez(Courtesy of Pasquines)
For example, in Puerto Rico, when [reporters] cover things happening in Congress, they put it in the international news section. But that also applies to Puerto Rico. It was just an island mindset of “Puerto Rico is its own thing”. And the reality is, no actually, [it’s] a colony of the United States. He wanted to fill that gap and act as a bridge between what’s happening in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. Then once that clicked, the U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands are in the same boat. I wanted to cover that. I realized that Puerto Rico doesn’t talk about any of them, not even the US Virgin Islands which are 10 miles to the east, and I wanted to serve as a common space.
While I want local writers, so they can understand local nuances, complexities, and idiosyncrasies, hiring people who had nothing to do with it also served a higher purpose. I call it a non-profit news organization, but in my head it’s also more than that – it’s a training program for future journalists to learn that there are 3.5 million Americans who don’t really have a say in their national government, and find themselves most vulnerable to a lot of politics.
If you look at the charts, [of] the most dangerous and powerful hurricanes that have made landfall in the United States, I think about seven of them have been in US territories, which just don’t have a say in politics federal government on climate change. To me, this is the most overriding example of how they are the most vulnerable, yet have the least say of all the other people in the nation.
When you started this and saw gaps in national coverage and in individual knowledge, how did you start to counter that? Where did you choose to focus?
I took a sort of political approach. Especially because, at the time, it was on the heels of the Democratic primaries in Puerto Rico. It was the time when national news agencies simply picked a reporter and threw them in Puerto Rico. And inevitably, I don’t know why, but inevitably they are always wrong. Either they call Puerto Rico a country or they call the local legislature Congress – it’s called the Legislative Assembly.
So I hope to at least serve as a resource, even if only for congressional staff aides, so that if they are looking for something from Puerto Rico, they can find it in English words that specify what it is. actually is. Few people in Congress speak Spanish, and then on the other side of the coin, hopefully helping locals understand that what happens in Congress affects them directly. They can’t vote for a voting member, but every law passed in Congress is passed in Puerto Rico.
The political aspect was therefore the most important at the beginning. In Puerto Rico, the biggest problem is the question of status, whether it becomes state or not, or whether it becomes independent. I’m part of the camp that thinks we need to address the status issue, because you don’t understand the impact [it has], although not directly, in the sense that people don’t understand what Puerto Rico is. I look at the Google Analytics metrics from Pasquines, and I see the hits that come from search engines, and the fact that ‘what is Puerto Rico?’ is one of the most important every time – they don’t understand.
Now that you’ve expanded Pasquines to other territories, what were the similarities or differences with what you saw in Puerto Rico?
The five territories have the same status. They all have nonvoting delegates to Congress, though Puerto Ricans follow theirs a bit differently. But I also want to show that everyone has their place [laws]. American Samoa, being the largest, is the only US territory that can control its own borders, and that is why it was, until recently, [one of] the last places on the planet to have the coronavirus. Puerto Rico cannot do that, nor can the US Virgin Islands or Guam.
American Samoa also happens to be the only country where residents do not obtain citizenship at birth. They are considered US nationals, which is similar to US resident status. They can travel freely, work, but they cannot vote or stand for election. They can quite easily apply for citizenship and almost guarantee they will get it, but they still have to take that extra step. There is this organization called Equally American which advocates and represents a man named John Fitisemanu, a Utah resident born in American Samoa. And they have a case right now arguing that anyone born in US jurisdiction should be considered a US citizen.
Interestingly enough, they are opposed by all politicians in American Samoa. American Samoa and traditional Samoan values involve much more family ties. It drives everything. Including politics, including land ownership. These concepts run counter to many American constitutional values, including protection under the law.
So automatically applying US citizenship would upset a lot of their traditional values. Although I am advocating for a Puerto Rican state, I am not going to say that every territory should become a state, because I think that has to be a very local consideration. That’s where, as I delved into the other territories, I started to see those similarities and differences too.
Have there been any stories you’ve published where you can see the impact of sharing this information?
Yes, there is a story that we published in 2015, which is still getting a lot of success. It was about the United States and its efforts to sterilize women against their will in Puerto Rico. Beyond that, we had an intern who was able to get an interview with the [former] governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló. Once we had the interview, she told me that the governor asked her what medium she wrote for. She said Pasquines, and he said, ‘oh, yeah, I read it often.’
Another big one was for the Democratic primaries in Puerto Rico. No one was polling, and we launched a poll. Admittedly, this was an optional survey, so it does not meet the highest statistical standards, but nonetheless, we released it, we released the results. It turned out that the results were about 2% of what we had published. And it caught the eye of Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com and Harry Enten, one of America’s top statistical wizards. And they tweeted us and posted it and mentioned us on Twitter. And I think it was Harry Enten who said something like ‘in a year when Democratic pollsters struggled, Pasquines did very well in Puerto Rico’.
What are the most pressing issues in the territories you see right now? What issues should get more attention?
The saddest thing is that a lot of it is how we repaired the crumbling infrastructure from the hurricanes and typhoons that hit us. Puerto Rico is still reeling from Maria. The same goes for the US Virgin Islands. Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands are still reeling from Super Typhoon Yutu. The infrastructure of American Samoa is…it’s almost embarrassing for us to say it’s US territory. Beyond that, in a political sense, is the issue of status every month, especially in Puerto Rico, that’s what drives politics there.
Puerto Rico does not align with the Democratic or Republican spectrum. The parties are all focused on the territories. It is only recently that we have more parties which are not based on the question of status, but in fact on the classical ideology. The issue of status is a big driving issue in the territories. Mainly in Puerto Rico. We are now witnessing, I think in Guam, a major decolonization movement.
And then it’s the daily fight we all face with the pandemic. Each territory to a different degree, American Samoa just received the first case. Interestingly enough, Puerto Rico was the most vaccinated jurisdiction in the United States. But then with the omicron variant, for a while there, [Puerto Rico] was among the places with the highest per capita infection rates.