American Citizenship Day is observed on March 2 every year in Puerto Rico. It is a public holiday to commemorate the day that Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship in 1917. On this day, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones-Shafroth Act and granted statutory U.S. citizenship to the residents of Puerto Rico.
History of American Citizenship Day
Puerto Rico is an island in the Caribbean region located 1,000 miles southeast of Miami, Florida. In the late 15th century, Christopher Columbus first arrived on the island. Soon after, in the 16th century, the Spanish rapidly colonized it. Puerto Ricans remained under Spanish rule until the Spanish-American War in 1898. Until then, all residents of Puerto Rico were Spanish nationals.
During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. invaded Puerto Rico, and Spain eventually ceded the island to America under the Treaty of Paris. After the war, the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico and three other territories. In the early years, Puerto Rico was ruled by the U.S. military along with officials appointed by the president of the U.S. The judicial system was reformed to align with that of the United States.
Citizenship remained a unique matter. Initially, Spanish nationals born in Spain could choose to remain Spanish by making a formal declaration. Foreigners remained foreign nationals. People born in Puerto Rico were U.S. nationals, but as per scholar John L. A. de Passalacqua, they had no “citizenship whatsoever recognized under international law or even United States municipal law.” Following this, new Codes and Acts kept coming into effect with minor changes. In 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Jones–Shafroth Act granting Puerto Ricans born on or after 25 April 1898 U.S. citizenship. The act established statutory U.S. citizenship upon U.S. nationals of Puerto Rico and those who might have been absent from the territory at the time of U.S. acquisition, but who had now returned. The act was faced with criticism and doubt but remains in effect to this day. On March 2, the date of the signing, American Citizenship Day is observed in Puerto Rico every year. Offices are closed and the holiday is publicly observed.
American Citizenship Day timeline
Christopher Columbus arrives on the island.
The first Spanish settlement is set up, beginning the Spanish rule.
The U.S. invades and conquers Puerto Rico.
President Wilson signs the Jones Act and grants Puerto Ricans U.S. Citizenship.
American Citizenship Day FAQs
Does Puerto Rico have a national language?
Yes, much like the dual nature of other things on the island, it has two national languages — English and Spanish.
Can Americans visit Puerto Rico?
Yes, since it’s a U.S. territory, U.S. citizens can visit Puerto Rico anytime and do not require a visa or passport to do so.
Is Puerto Rico a country?
Contrary to popular belief, Puerto Rico is not a country. It is a commonwealth ruled by the U.S. government. Though, many of Puerto Rico’s actions are that of a country’s.
How to Observe American Citizenship Day
Learn about American Citizenship
There is a lot of history behind the nationality and citizenship of the residents of Puerto Rico. Even now, there are plenty of details and criteria to determine who is a citizen and who isn’t. Take the day to educate yourself about this history and technicalities.
Attend American Citizenship events
On this day, the Government of Puerto Rico hosts certain events on the island. If you are in the area and eligible, use this day to attend one.
Be an American citizen
What better day to channel your inner American than American Citizenship Day? Put on your best red, white and blue outfit, eat some American snacks and maybe even watch a popular American TV show you’ve always wanted to watch. Have fun with it.
5 Facts About Puerto Rico That You Probably Didn’t Know
Citizens without a say
Puerto Ricans may be U.S. citizens, but they can’t vote for the U.S. president and vice president.
Dual citizenship is possible
If they fit the criteria, Puerto Ricans can obtain Puerto Rican Citizenship, too.
World’s oldest colony
To this day, Puerto Rico is the world’s oldest known colony.
There are uninhabited islands
Puerto Rico is said to have many smaller islands that remain uninhabited.
The real pirate of the Caribbean
The legendary Cofresí Pirate is Puerto Rico’s most famous pirate and is even believed to have invented the pina colada.
Why American Citizenship Day Is Important
It is a reminder of history
There is so much history behind the world as we know it today. Our lives would be so different had history not turned out the way it did. A day like this is a reminder to become educated about why we are where we are, and who and what led to this.
It encourages education
Staying up to date with all of the political history and updates can be difficult. But it is important to know how and why you have the right to the land you live in, and who makes the decisions that affect you.
It makes us active
Knowledge is power. And becoming aware of one's citizenship status, in turn, results in views and opinions among the people. It is then that, positively or negatively, the citizens become active, instead of passive, society members.
American Citizenship Day dates