The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move: Identities on the Island and in the United Statesby Jorge Duany
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Puerto Ricans maintain a vibrant identity that bridges two very different places--the island of Puerto Rico and the U.S. mainland. Whether they live on the island, in the States, or divide time between the two, most imagine Puerto Rico as a separate nation and view themselves primarily as Puerto Rican. At the same time, Puerto Ricans have been U.S. citizens since 1917, and Puerto Rico has been a U.S. commonwealth since 1952.
Jorge Duany uses previously untapped primary sources to bring new insights to questions of Puerto Rican identity, nationalism, and migration. Drawing a distinction between political and cultural nationalism, Duany argues that the Puerto Rican "nation" must be understood as a new kind of translocal entity with deep cultural continuities. He documents a strong sharing of culture between island and mainland, with diasporic communities tightly linked to island life by a steady circular migration. Duany explores the Puerto Rican sense of nationhood by looking at cultural representations produced by Puerto Ricans and considering how others--American anthropologists, photographers, and museum curators, for example--have represented the nation. His sources of information include ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, interviews, surveys, censuses, newspaper articles, personal documents, and literary texts.
"This wide-ranging exploration of Puerto Rican identity, past and present, is as notable for the breadth and originality of Duany's research as for his impressive ability to present complex interpretations in a clear and accessible way. (Nancy Morris, author of Puerto Rico: Culture, Politics, and Identity)"
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Puerto Rican Nation on the MoveIdentities on the Island and in the United States
By Jorge Duany
University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2002 Jorge Duany
All right reserved.
IntroductionRethinking Colonialism, Nationalism, and Transnationalism
The Case of Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico has a peculiar status among the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. As one of Spain's last two colonies in the New World (along with Cuba), Puerto Rico experienced the longest period of Hispanic influence in the region. On July 25, 1898, however, U.S. troops invaded the Island during the Spanish-Cuban-American War. In 1901 the U.S. Supreme Court defined Puerto Rico as "foreign to the United States in a domestic sense" because it was neither a state of the union nor a sovereign republic (Burnett and Marshall 2001). In 1917 Congress granted U.S. citizenship to all persons born in Puerto Rico but did not incorporate the Island as a territory. Until now, Puerto Rico has remained a colonial dependency, even though it attained a limited form of self-government as a commonwealth in 1952.
As an overseas possession of the United States, the Island has been exposed to an intense penetration of American capital, commodities, laws, and customs unequaled in other Latin American countries. Yet today Puerto Ricans display a stronger cultural identity than do most Caribbean people, even those who enjoy political independence. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Puerto Rico presents the apparent paradox of a stateless nation that has not assimilated into the American mainstream. After more than one hundred years of U.S. colonialism, the Island remains a Spanish-speaking Afro-Hispanic-Caribbean nation. Today, the Island's electorate is almost evenly split between supporting commonwealth status and becoming the fifty-first state of the Union; only a small minority advocates independence.
Recent studies of Puerto Rican cultural politics have focused on the demise of political nationalism on the Island, the rise of cultural nationalism, and the enduring significance of migration between the Island and the U.S. mainland (Alvarez-Curbelo and Rodriguez Castro 1993; Davila 1997; Kerkhof 2000; Negron-Muntaner and Grosfoguel 1997). Although few scholars have posited an explicit connection among these phenomena, they are intimately linked. For instance, most Puerto Ricans value their U.S. citizenship and the freedom of movement that it offers, especially unrestricted access to the continental United States. But as Puerto Ricans move back and forth between the two countries, territorially grounded definitions of national identity become less relevant, while transnational identities acquire greater prominence. Constant movement is an increasingly common practice among Puerto Ricans on the Island and in the mainland. Under such fluid conditions, what is the meaning of Puerto Rican identity? Where is it located? How is it articulated and represented? Who imagines it and from what standpoint? How can a people define themselves as a nation without striving for a sovereign state? These are some of the basic questions addressed in this book. Reconsidering the Puerto Rican situation can add much to contemporary scholarly discussions on colonialism, nationalism, and transnationalism.
Moving Back and Forth
The Spanish folk term for the back-and-forth movement of people between Puerto Rico and the United States is el vaiven (literally meaning "fluctuation"). This culturally dense word refers to the constant comings and goings in which large numbers of Puerto Ricans are involved (C. Rodriguez 1994b). It implies that some people do not stay put in one place for a long period of time but move incessantly, like the wind or the waves of the sea, in response to shifting tides. Furthermore, it suggests that those who are here today may be gone tomorrow, and vice versa. More ominously, vaiven also connotes unsteadiness, inconstancy, and oscillation. In any case, contemporary Puerto Rican migration is best visualized as a transient and pendulous flow, rather than as a permanent, irrevocable, one-way relocation of people. La nacion en vaiven, "the nation on the move," might serve as an apt metaphor for the fluid and hybrid identities of Puerto Ricans on the Island and in the mainland. I have therefore chosen that image as the title of this book, to suggest that none of the traditional criteria for nationhood-a shared territory, language, economy, citizenship, or sovereignty-are fixed and immutable in Puerto Rico and its diaspora but are subject to constant fluctuation and intense debate, even though the sense of peoplehood has proven remarkably resilient throughout.
In the past few years, the metaphor of Puerto Rico as a nation on the move has taken new meanings. On May 4, 2000, the U.S. Navy carried out Operation Access to the East, in which it removed more than two hundred peaceful demonstrators from its training grounds in Vieques, a small island off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico. Those practicing civil disobedience included a wide spectrum of political and religious leaders, university students, and community activists. The protests had been sparked by the accidental death of security guard David Sanes Rodriguez during a military exercise in Vieques on April 19, 1999. Soon thereafter, Puerto Ricans of all ideological persuasions called for an end to live bombings, the navy's exit, and the return of military lands to the civilian residents of Vieques. As a result of this prolonged struggle, the Puerto Rican nation was symbolically extended beyond the main island to Vieques-la isla nena, or "the baby island," as it is affectionately known-as well as to Culebra and other smaller territories of the Puerto Rican archipelago. It is now more appropriate than ever to speak about the islands of Puerto Rico.
A noteworthy development has been the active participation of leaders of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the grassroots movement to end the U.S. Navy presence in Vieques. Two of the three Puerto Rican delegates to the U.S. House of Representatives, Luis Gutierrez and Nydia Velazquez, were detained in Vieques during Operation Access to the East. The third, Jose Serrano, was arrested inside the White House grounds demanding peace for Vieques. Many other Puerto Rican leaders from New York have publicly expressed their support for the peace movement on the Island. Thus, Puerto Rican national identity has moved abroad in two main directions-both across a short distance to Vieques and across the "big pond" of the Atlantic Ocean to the U.S. mainland. For the moment, the public discourse on the Puerto Rican nation has broadened beyond territorial boundaries and across political differences.
Despite the strong ties of solidarity displayed by Puerto Ricans on and off the Island, the U.S. government has insisted on continuing military exercises in Vieques until May 1, 2003. Although motivated by a host of political and strategic factors, this insistence reveals the colonial nature of U.S.-Puerto Rican relations. Without effective representation in Congress, islanders have been forced to accept a presidential directive (timidly negotiated by former governor Pedro Rossello), which does not please most opponents of the navy's continued presence in Vieques. This directive called for the resumption of military training activities, although with inert bombs, as well as for a plebiscite to tap the views of the people of Vieques. (On July 29, 2001, 68.2 percent of those polled in a Vieques referendum supported the navy's immediate exit.) Throughout the controversy, high-ranking members of Congress have raised the question of Puerto Rican loyalty to U.S. citizenship and commitment to American security needs. On April 29, 2000, President Clinton's key adviser on Puerto Rican affairs, Jeffrey Farrow, reiterated the official position that Puerto Rico is not a nation but a territory of the United States (see Garcia Passalacqua 2000). As such, the Island is supposed to follow the defensive strategies established by the White House for the entire American nation.
Contrary to such opinions, I argue that Puerto Rico is indeed a nation, but a nation on the move. In so doing, I redefine the nation not as a well-bounded sovereign state but as a translocal community based on a collective consciousness of a shared history, language, and culture. Furthermore, Puerto Rico may well be considered a "postcolonial colony" in the sense of a people with a strong national identity but little desire for a nation-state, living in a territory that legally "belongs to but is not part of the United States." The prevailing juridical definition of the Island as neither a state of the Union nor a sovereign republic has created an ambiguous, problematic, and contested political status for more than a hundred years. Paradoxically, it has also strengthened the sense of peoplehood among Puerto Ricans.
One does not have to espouse an essentialist or primordialist viewpoint to acknowledge that the vast majority of Puerto Ricans-on and off the Island-imagine themselves as part of a broader community that meets all the standard criteria of nationality, such as territory, language, or culture, except sovereignty. The public outcry over Vieques suggests that the "baby island" has been popularly redefined as part of the Puerto Rican, not the American, nation. At the same time, the massive displacements of people between the Island and the mainland over the last half century complicate any simple equations among territory, language, and culture. In particular, the mobile livelihood of many Puerto Ricans challenges static approaches to national identity. Nonetheless, recent essays on the construction and representation of Puerto Ricanness concur on its sheer strength, intensity, and wide appeal (Davila 1997; Guerra 1998; Morris 1997; Rivera 1996). Unfortunately, most of this work has centered on the Island and neglected how identities are transformed and reconstructed in the diaspora.
The Recurrent Themes of This Book
Two key questions guide my analysis. First, how can most Puerto Ricans imagine themselves as a nation, even though few of them support the constitution of a separate nation-state? I address this issue by making a careful distinction between political nationalism-based on the doctrine that every people should have its own sovereign government-and cultural nationalism-based on the assertion of the moral and spiritual autonomy of each people. While the former is a minority position in contemporary Puerto Rico, the latter is the dominant ideology of the Commonwealth government, the intellectual elite, and numerous cultural institutions on the Island as well as in the diaspora. Most Puerto Ricans now insist that they are a distinct nation-as validated in their participation in such international displays of nationhood as Olympic sports and beauty pageants-but at the same time they want to retain their U.S. citizenship, thus pulling apart the coupling that the very term "nation-state" implies.
Second, what has been the cultural impact of the massive migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland over the past five decades? I argue that diasporic communities are an integral part of the Puerto Rican nation because they continue to be linked to the Island by an intense circular movement of people, identities, and practices, as well as capital, technology, and commodities. Hence, the Puerto Rican nation is no longer restricted to the Island but instead is constituted by two distinct yet closely intertwined fragments: that of Puerto Rico itself and that of the diasporic communities settled in the continental United States. The multiple implications of this profound territorial dispersion are explored throughout the book.
In what follows, I approach the construction and representation of Puerto Rican identity as a hybrid, translocal, and postcolonial sense of peoplehood. Here I appropriate the suggestive notion of "hybrid cultures" developed by Nestor Garcia Canclini (1990) to analyze the interpenetration of local, regional, national, and transnational forms of culture, as well as folk, rural, urban, popular, and mass culture. Furthermore, the interpretation of Puerto Rican culture on the Island and in the mainland calls for a transnational approach (Basch, Schiller, and Blanc 1994; Schiller, Basch, and Blanc-Szanton 1992) that moves beyond territorial boundaries to characterize the continuing sociocultural links between the diaspora and its communities of origin. The book also draws insights from contemporary writing on the public representation of collective identities, especially the idea that all identities are constituted through particular discursive practices (see Hall 1997). By insisting on the performative aspects of people's sense of who they are, I do not claim that discourses take precedence over material experiences but that the former always mediate the latter through culturally patterned forms of imagination. Finally, I engage critically with a central strand of postcolonial criticism that takes the analysis of colonial discourses as its point of departure. Above all, the material presented in this book challenges homogeneous portrayals of racial and ethnic others, which cannot account for the specific historical and cultural junctures in which such portrayals emerge.
The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move deals with several interrelated topics, such as the politics of representation, the construction of colonial and anticolonial discourses, and the myriad intersections between race, ethnicity, class, and nationalism. In examining these issues, I dwell on certain historical moments and cultural practices shared by the Puerto Rican people, both on the Island and in the United States. First I assess the impact of the American occupation of the Island after the Spanish-Cuban-American War on the construction and representation of Puerto Rican identity. Then I emphasize recent social changes on the Island, such as industrialization, urbanization, and migration. I am particularly interested in the cultural effects of the massive displacement of Puerto Ricans to the United States since the 1940s. The 1950s can be considered a bridging decade between the colonial and nationalist discourses that dominated the first and second halves of the twentieth century, respectively. I also focus on emergent trends in the first years of the twenty-first century, such as an ever increasing ethnic diversity on the Island owing to foreign immigration and the persistence of migration between the Island and the mainland.
The present work draws on neglected primary sources for the ethnographic and historical analysis of Puerto Rican culture, such as its public display through material objects and photographs. Methodologically, the book weaves together findings from ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, surveys, censuses, personal documents, interviews, newspaper articles, and literary texts. Because of the shifting nature of my object of study, I myself had to move back and forth between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and San Juan.
Excerpted from Puerto Rican Nation on the Move by Jorge Duany Copyright © 2002 by Jorge Duany.
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What People are saying about this
A riveting blend of ethnographic fieldwork, archival research, surveys, censuses, personal documents, interviews, newspaper articles, museum displays, photographic collections, and literary texts. . . . A significant contribution to the growing literature about national identities.--South Eastern Latin Americanist
Marks a significant contribution to Puerto Rican cultural and historical studies by bringing together--in an admirably coherent articulation--many of the changing conceptions of Puerto Rican identity as they have been brewing with increasing boldness over the course of several decades.--Juan Flores, Dialogo
A compelling, imaginative, and nicely written work, sure to provoke thought and arguments.--Choice
An intelligent theoretical comprehension.--IBEROAMERICANA/NOTAS
The Puerto Rican Nation on the Move is an engaging, thought-provoking and comprehensive examination of the meaning of nationhood through multiple representations of Puerto Rican identity throughout the last century. . . . A rich analysis of the constructions and transformations enveloping Puerto Rican identity since US colonization of the island in 1898. . . . Writing in a clear and concise manner, Duany's work greatly enhances our understanding of how identities evolve and are transformed, not a simple task given the political, cultural and demographic complexities surrounding the Puerto Rican case. . . . An important and timely contribution to the field of Puerto Rican and Latino studies specifically, and immigration and transnational studies generally.--Latino Studies
A fine book that makes a significant contribution to Puerto Rican studies. This wide-ranging exploration of Puerto Rican identity, past a*nd present, is as notable for the breadth and originality of Duany's research as for his impressive ability to present complex interpretations in a clear and accessible way.--Nancy Morris, Temple University
Jorge Duany enriches the field [of diaspora studies] considerably with this highly textured examination of Puerto Rican identity and culture in the U.S. orbit.--American Historical Review
Meet the Author
Jorge Duany is professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico in Rio Piedras and coauthor of Cubans in Puerto Rico: Ethnic Economy and Cultural Identity. He has held teaching and research appointments in the United States, most recently as a visiting professor at the University of Michigan.
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