Maps of the United States usually show the forty-eight contiguous states, Alaska, Hawaii, and the non-state District of Columbia. There is more to the union; however. Territories and commonwealths comprise the United States as well. Each additional territory adds unique value to the country.
Puerto Rico: The most well known American commonwealth has to be the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico also known as Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico became part of the United States after the end of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The population, vastly Hispano, considers itself “white” though there are genetic traces of American Indian and some Black. Puerto Rico’s politics is divided between two major parties, the status quo favoring Popular Democratic Party and the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. Puerto Rico does not have electoral votes in the presidential election and only one non-voting delegate in congress.
Northern Mariana Islands: The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has had a long history of native rule followed by Spanish, German, Japanese, then American after World War II. Instead of seeking independence the islands agreed to form a commonwealth within the United States in the 1970s. Most natives died during colonization and today a majority of the population is Chinese and Filipino. The Catholic faith is the largest religion with other islanders worshiping traditional beliefs. The largest industries are tourism, mostly from Japan, and manufacturing. Products made on the islands can be labeled “Made in USA” while workers can be paid less than standard minimum wage. The islands are currently campaigning for a non-voting delegate to congress.
Virgin Islands: The United States Virgin Islands were bought from Denmark in 1917 because of American fears of Germany buying them. Most islanders are the decedents of plantation slaves though there is an Indian business class and a few Danish families left besides mainland Americans who moved in. Baptists form the biggest denomination. There has been heavy migration to the mainland lately that has some worried about the islands future. Several referendums have been held on the islands about its future though there seems to be little interest by anyone to change the status quo.
Guam: The Territory of Guam is another spoil of the Spanish-American War. The island was the sight of two fierce battles in World War II. Islanders were given citizenship and the territory was organized in 1950. The island is incredibly diverse with a native Chamorro, Filipinos, Asians, and mainland Americans. Catholicism of the Filipinos and Chamorro makes the islands overwhelming Catholic (at least on paper). A third of the island belongs to the military. There is a push for commonwealth status by some, though analysts question whether Guam could economically survive with the limits on federal funds the status would come with the new status.
American Samoa: American Samoa is the byproduct of the late-1800s rivalry between Germany and the United States. The American side over ninety-percent Samoan; who are American nationals but not citizens. Most of them are Protestant. Samoans have one non-voting delegate in congress. Samoans are more likely to play professional football (per capita) than Americans from any other part of the union.
Pacific Remote Islands National Wildlife Refuge Complex: Baker Island, Howland Island, Jarvis Island, Johnston Atoll, Kingman Reef, and Palmyra Atoll create the PRINWRC run by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the US Department of the Interior (with Palmyra being partially privately owned). This grouping is sometimes combined with Midway Island National Wildlife Refuge to create the United States Pacific Island Wildlife Refuges label. Baker, Howland, Jarvis, Johnston, and Palmyra were claimed by the United States for its guano. Guano use to be an important energy source in the nineteenth century. Midway was claimed because it served as a refueling station for American ships on route to Asia. Kingman Reef is one of the newest American additions being claimed in 1922 because it was there. There is no permanent population but Midway has about forty Fish and Wildlife staffers and Palmyra has up to twenty scientists living on it at any given time.
Wake Island: Wake Island was uninhabited when America claimed it in 1899 during its first rise of international power. The island served a military purpose as a refueling and defense base. A bloody battle in World War II gave Wake the name "the Alamo of the Pacific." There is no permanent population and the island is run by the Department of the Interior. Wake Island is claimed by the Marshall Islands though the United States just ignores the claim in order to keep good relations with the Marshall Islands.
Navassa Island: Navassa Island is a Caribbean island off the coast of Haiti. The island is uninhabited and was also part of America's reach for guano. The guano rush occurred earlier though in 1857. At that time there was an effort, mostly by southerners, to expand the United States south into the Caribbean. Navassa was seen by some as the first steps to the proposed empire. Today Haiti also claims the island and sometimes fisherman will be spotted camping on it. Currently it is managed by the Fish and Wildlife services.