April 16 – Happy Birthday, Jose de Diego

Posted on April 16, 2015

I have often seen people honored as “Father of His Country,” “The Liberator,” or other similar titles – when the person being honored won his campaign for full independence of his country.

However, Jose de Diego is called “The Father of the Puerto Rican Independence Movement,” and is honored every year on his birthday, and is the namesake of roads and schools and such – 

But Puerto Rico still isn't independent!

Born in Puerto Rico on this date in 1867, de Diego got his early education in Puerto Rico but his university education in Spain (including a law degree). He worked for Puerto Rico's independence from Spain – and when Spain acknowledged Puerto Rico's autonomy (not quite the same thing as full independence), in 1897, he became the Sub-Secretary of Justice and Government.

A Puerto Rican boat painted like its flag.
Aaaannndd then Puerto Rico was invaded by the United State!

In 1900, U.S. President William McKinley named de Diego as a member of an Executive Cabinet under an American governor. But de Diego wouldn't compromise; he resigned from the position and continued to work for Puerto Rico's right to rule itself. He won an elected position and presided over the House of Delegates, and he helped pass resolution after resolution – for independence, against the imposition of U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans, etc. All of those resolutions were vetoed by the U.S. president.

In 1917, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Jones Shafroth Act, which made the people of Puerto Rico citizens – but citizens who are not represented in Congress (not by voting representatives, that is) and who do not help elect the President.

For a nation that got its start railing against “taxation without representation,” this seems pretty problematic. Puerto Ricans are required to pay most U.S. federal taxes (although most do not have to pay the federal income tax).

Tourism is important to today's
Puerto Rico.
One thing I loved discovering about Jose de Diego that he was also known as a poet. He published several poetry books and is known as the “Father of the Modern Puerto Rican Poetry Movement.”

Jose de Diego, “Father” of this, “Father” of that! Hooray for de Diego today!

This middle school in Florida is named for
Jose de Diego.
It's interesting to note that at least three schools in the continental U.S. are named after de Diego.

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