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Hurricane Beulah and Dr. Mario E. Ramirez


As some of you may already know, I’m a graduate student in UTSA’s history department. I’m writing a masters thesis on 1967 Hurricane Beulah and Dr. Mario E. Ramirez. Please write me if you’d like to share memories/stories of the hurricane or of the fascinating physician from the Rio Grande Valley. I’d love to hear them.

Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Too disgraceful if true


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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

An operation to capture a Union gunboat turns into a Confederate disaster.

Sept. 10, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

The famed Brigade is back again after its hurried trip to Tensas, during which it managed to capture sixteen Yankees, kill three, and kill five of its own men by a badly placed ambuscade. The object of the march was to take possession of a gunboat that was to be given up by treachery, but it proved a fiasco.

Our opinion is that the officers all got on a grand spree and so failed at the critical time. Too disgraceful if true. Jimmy and Joe were two who volunteered to board the boat when volunteers were called for. I think there were eighty in all, but it proved they were not to board the gunboat but to form an ambuscade.

How near death they were when they stood firing within fifteen paces of each other. It makes one shudder to think of it. What unnecessary risk and such culpable ignorance in the man who placed the ambuscade.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: One grand holocaust


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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

After false rumors of a Union raid, a furious Stone employs amazing language to accuse the Federal government of using former slaves to wipe Southern civilization off the face of the earth.

Sept. 5, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

Intense excitement in the neighborhood. Yankees reported advancing in large force destroying, burning, and murdering as they come!! Capt. Lea with his small band of guerrillas contesting every mile of the way but being steadily forced back by superior numbers! Praying Col. Parsons, who has the only troops near, for reinforcements, but who refuses to send them as he is under stringent orders and making forced marches! Blank consternation among the citizens who hear that the Federals have vowed vengeance against this section on account of Capt. Lea and his guerrillas. Everyone is preparing to flee the wrath to come.

Such were the startling reports brought to Col. Templeton by terrified Mr. Philips this morning, frightening us nearly to death, for great is our horror of the vandal hordes since their ruthless destruction of Floyd and Pin Hook and their outrageous conduct at those doomed places. Mrs. Templeton soon had everything arranged for our rapid flight through the swamp across the Ouachita to the safe haven of Col. Wadley’s home, should the reports prove true, leaving Mrs. Templeton and Mrs. Savage here to brave the storm, Col. Templeton going with us. We were on the qui vive all day looking for a mounted messenger galloping up through the wooded lawn shouting, “Flee, Flee.” But about sunset the tension relaxed. We heard that the Yankees came out only as far as Floyd on a reconnaissance and are retiring to the river, and so we breathe freely once more.

The Yankee raids are no joke, though we laugh at each other for being frightened. Last week 200 of the Corps D’Afrique, officered by six big white men (wretches they are), came out and laid the two little villages of Floyd and Pin Hook in ashes, not allowing the people to remove any of their possessions from their houses and thus leaving them utterly destitute. They were very rough and insulting in their language to the ladies, tore the pockets from their dresses and the rings from their fingers, cursing and swearing, and frightening the helpless folks nearly into fits.

This was done in revenge for a guerrilla raid a few days before, in which a good many government stores were destroyed and eighty or ninety Negroes brought out. The Yankees know they make it ten times worse for us by sending Negroes to commit these atrocities. The Paternal Government at Washington has done all in its power to incite a general insurrection throughout the South, in the hopes of thus getting rid of the women and children in one grand holocaust. We would be practically helpless should the Negroes rise, since there are so few men left at home. It is only because the Negroes do not want to kill us that we are still alive. The Negroes have behaved well, far better than anyone anticipated. They have not shown themselves revengeful, have been most biddable, and in many cases have been the only mainstay of their owners.

Five or six citizens, unarmed, were murdered by the Yankees in that Floyd raid. How thankful I am we left home when we did. To lose everything is bad, but constant terror and insult are worse.

The guerrillas report that the cotton crop on the river is a complete failure, entirely eaten up by the worms. The fields are swept of every vestige of green and there is hardly a matured boll to a stalk. This news rejoices our very hearts. Those are true “Confederate worms,” working for the good of the Cause. …

Kate Stone’s Civil War: Lazy and languid


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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

As Stone continues her brief stay with friends in Louisiana, she savors the old sights and sounds of her beloved home state.

Sept. 2, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

Mrs. and Col. Templeton are entertaining a Mr. Massengale, just from Texas with news of Capt. Jack Wylie. We may look for him any day now. He will bring three beautiful horses, which we three girls have already appropriated in imagination and expect to race over the whole countryside.

I am too used up by my ride, or rather run, of yesterday to do anything. We have been very busy for the last ten days, riding, sewing, singing, receiving visitors, and playing, but now that the Brigade has gone out to Tensas Parish, we will be quiet for a time. Even Walker’s division is passing through en route to Arkansas, and so for the present we are left defenseless. …

Unfortunately for my pleasure, the report is abroad that I am engaged. There is no truth in it, and it deprives me of much fun. …

I have finished all of Jimmy’s clothes and two dresses for myself, and I feel a real Louisianian once more in the very heart of the swamp, suffocating with the heat, fighting mosquitoes, lazy and languid, little appetite, but luxuriating on fruit for breakfast, dinner, and supper and enjoying curds and cream. The swamp is my own dear land most natural, most restful.

Mamma’s trip to Yankeeland did much good to all of us. The carriage, and such a delightful one, is a great triumph. The dry goods are the greatest comfort, relieving our present necessities, and the books and papers are great entertainment. …

From a flame into a firestorm


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Why the French Revolution devoured its own people
An essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Hope inspires nations to improve their societies, challenge their citizens’ capabilities, and face down seemingly invincible enemies. In revolutionary France, citizens and their leaders tasted the sweet fresh air of liberty, equality, and nationalist unity. They sensed their hopes for a brighter national and social future might be realized, and they determined that nothing would interfere with that grand realization. But how did those hopes lead France into the horrific era of the Terror? The tragic evolution from revolution to republic to Terror was not a linear nor an inevitable process. Challenges to the Revolution mounted, as did the Revolution’s responses to them. The key elements of the Revolution – the people who embraced that revolution, their political leadership, and the counterrevolutionary threats that haunted all of them – ground against each other, setting off sparks that ignited the rise of a new form of government and an era of bloodshed that still stains the shadowed passages of tormented human memory.

The French Revolution reordered the political mindsets of many eighteenth-century French people. The preceding era of the Enlightenment and the Republic of Letters nurtured not only an intellectual renaissance but also demanded and inspired challenges to the way the French regarded the Catholic Church, their places in a monarchy, and their social, economic, and creative potential as liberated people.1 That intimate revolution in self-image was furthered in 1763 and 1764 when the Parlement of Paris argued that “the king held his throne and legitimacy” from “fundamental” French laws, deflating the inherently supreme majesty of monarchy and subordinating it to the French polity’s larger legal authority.2

As economic crisis paralyzed France, the Old Regime’s political leadership failed to live up to the people’s “almost-millenarian hope” that those leaders could improve commoners’ impoverished lives, convincing many of those commoners that they had to take control of their own existence.3 The privileges the upper classes enjoyed angered the middle classes, already irritated with “paternalism of government” and dismissive of the Church as a “corporation which had ceased to perform its functions efficiently.”4 A new era was about to dawn over France.

The Revolution retained the king but stripped privileges from the Church and demanded from the clergy oaths of loyalty to the new Civil Constitution. The new national representatives asked the people to share their concerns and ideas. It was intimately revolutionary. The people were asked to review their lives and look at elements of their government and society that they themselves deemed could “be changed or improved or abolished.”5 The new Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens promised a better future for an “imagined community” of equal citizens. The new October constitution formalized ideals of liberty and equality under a representative government, spiritually freed from Catholic doctrine, and under the paternalistic gaze of a weak and devoted monarch. While the reforms seemed to favor oppressed and voiceless lower classes, the Revolution did not have “a natural constituency.”6 Each citizen had their own self-interested reason for support or opposing the new era of liberty and equality.

By the early 1790s, the empowered and self-confident French people, no longer “docile followers” of the Old Regime’s well-trod paths through life, stood on the threshold of an undiscovered country, determined to face down the empires and kingdoms that besieged them, the political and economic differences that divided them, and, most importantly, the internal forces that conspired to undermine their Revolution’s promise of a new and better world.7

Revolutionary changes did not unfold without resistance, particularly from French sectors directly diminished by progressive policies, and the manner with which some changes were enacted inspired counterrevolutionary sentiments, conspiracies, and actions. Other counterrevolutionary actors feared further social disorder, insolvency, and unemployment, disagreed over food distribution policies, or simply suffered from bruised egos.8 Economic equality for the lower classes meant nothing if standards of living steadily fell.9

The nobles saw their privileges, including light tax burdens or exemptions from an incomprehensible financial system, stripped away “by violence and chicanery,” inspiring even elites who disliked each other to temporarily unite, thereby “creating one of the strands of the counterrevolution.”10 Some elites found a promising alliance with the other major French sector the Revolution diminished: the Catholic Church. Revolution policies expropriated church property, determined that embrace of a “Supreme Being” instead of God “eliminated the Church’s monopoly of public worship as well as its claim to special status,” issued a Civil Constitution of the Clergy in July 1790, and required the clergy to swear their allegiance to that constitution or resign their posts.11 The oath was meant to assert the people’s sovereignty over the church just as the Revolution asserted popular sovereignty over the government, class hierarchies, and the monarchy. The revolutionary government expected the Church to “proselytize for it and to keep order for it” among the masses.12

But that oath also became a rallying point for the Revolution’s leading enemies, who used it to break off sections of popular sentiment bristling over the Revolution’s treatment of their sacred religious institutions or feeling discontent over a multitude of other consequences of revolutionary policies. Counterrevolutionary elites focused disruptive energies on Catholic-rich regions of France and manipulated Catholic-Protestant divisions. The oath provided the counterrevolution a group from which to draw support that might have otherwise embraced the new era. Resistance to the Civil Constitution “took on the characteristics of a mass movement.”13

The oath also stressed the fragile loyalties of clerical deputies participating in revolutionary government. The faith they shared with most other deputies in the unifying symbol of the King Louis XVI bolstered the Revolution’s fragile coalition. His attempt to escape the Revolution sent devastating shockwaves through the delicate political networks and contributed to the people’s eventual capacity to wage the Terror against the threats he represented.14

The king publicly swore loyalty and support for the new constitution. But he secretly despised everything it represented. The Civil Constitution of Clergy disgusted him. In letters he raged against his loss of traditional monarchical authority.15 His escape in June 1791, his capture, and his discovered letters – including one he left behind explaining his reasons for his flight — exposed to his subjects what he truly felt about their aspirations and ambitions.

Louis warped the monarchy’s moral authority and stained any politician subsequently willing to deal with it or defend it. Opinion and justification over his actions split the political accord in the Assembly.16 The flight shattered for provincial citizens and officials any belief in the revolutionary government’s credibility, effectiveness, and stability. Who would help them? A government that accomplished nothing? A divided church only half-heartedly embracing a new era of social justice? A king that lied to their faces? The king’s flight and his sentiments convinced “the urban masses and the national guards” that they had to deal with incidents of counterrevolutionary unrest with degrees of force that they themselves deemed appropriate — with “their own solutions” — and Paris could do little to stop them.17 Perhaps, a few thought, France did not need a king. It was a key moment “in the emergence of French nationalism.” Some letter-writers even referred to the deputies as the new fathers of a new country.18

The king’s actions sharpened in the politicians and citizens’ minds their suspicions and fears of looming counterrevolutionary forces conspiring to destroy the Revolution. Priests refused to take their oaths of loyalty. Provincials fought amongst themselves. Émigré armies massed in the borderlands. And the king confessed his disgust for his own subjects’ hopes and attempted to leave them to the mercy of what might have been a foreign invasion — that might still take place.19 Even the most paranoid revolutionaries eventually appeared prescient to commoners who had no idea what the next day might bring. That fear justified the new forms of justice, suspension of personal liberties, lethal brutality, and outright murder throughout France.

To deal with perceived threats, in August 1792, the Paris government authorized the disarming of any suspected counterrevolutionaries and searches of any suspected counterrevolutionary homes. Betraying the Revolution was something bad but taking oppositional action against it was even worse. Arresting people for throwing stones or shouting at guards, shutting down political clubs and newspapers, listening to private conversations, or simply looking for anything or anyone that seemed suspicious – these were the actions of a terrified government willing to fight imagined terrorism with repression of almost any degree.20 In September, rumors of prisoners planning to revolt when foreign armies invaded France inspired revolutionaries to massacre them, leaving up to 1,400 dead. On Sept. 21 “the [national] Convention abolished the monarchy and proclaimed the Republic.”21

Recent battlefield victories against foreign counterrevolutionary forces and the war’s expanded scope inspired the republic to call up 300,000 men, which sparked “an unprecedented wave of riots.” More importantly, the riots – and fresh battlefield defeats — sparked an official response: the centralization of national authority, new judicial tribunals to persecute suspected treason, and state-directed repression of domestic unrest and disloyalty with a “supreme police”22 The Revolution was threatened, and the government took the repressive torches from the people and transformed them into fireballs with which to incinerate the elites, the price-gougers, and traitors of any section of the endangered French Republic. Terror was not a new horror — what was new was that the Terror was systemic, “a deliberate policy of government,” so it was wide-reaching, simultaneous, and steady in its murderous hunger for victims.23

The war machine was a ravenous hurricane at the Terror’s core, hungry for materiel from churches, loyalty from the populace, and legions of soldiers to be thrown against foreign armies. Churches became “barracks, arsenals, or stables,” and anything of value was put to military use. But the mobilization campaign quickly became a dechristianization campaign, in which signs of any kind containing Christian references were torn down. The new man of the Republic would be spared the old superstitions of the failed Church. Church defenders were killed. Nothing better symbolized the Terror for many citizens than the dechristianization efforts.24

The campaign drew deep divisions between commoners who believed they commanded the government and the political leadership, some in power without popular mandates, which was prepared to brutally suppress any resistance or wavering acquiescence to their absolute wartime authority. These two elements, increasingly at odds with each other, intensified the Terror’s murderous chaos.25 Real and imagined fears inspired both the French people and their provisional government — particularly members of the Committee of Public Safety like Robespierre — to use fear to repress it. Fighting fire with fire simply intensified the fire.26

Robespierre’s campaign to purify the Revolution, first by invalidating any sense of guilt or culpability for the atrocities he felt were necessary, was aimed at the building the new society the Revolution’s earliest aspirations aspired to achieve. The Terror’s own monstrous judicial liberties were realized on local levels as committees expressed the persecutorial zealotry required to achieve the sanctioned purifications.27 The Terror was sustained by “a strange compound of reason, desperation, and fear,” and it redefined what was revolutionary – not ideology, not a new vision, not a new government. The Terror’s revolution was one of efficient execution of “effective measures” — slicing through opposition and bringing centralized order to counterrevolutionary chaos in order to ensure the Revolution’s permanence.28

The Revolution’s supporters at first marched proudly into a new era, their self-image evolving from royal subjects to free citizens and optimistic that they would find a balance between better lives and the embrace of a king’s paternalistic gaze. But the Revolution’s real and imagined enemies inspired powerful figures who cared less about revolutionary aspirations than the measures necessary to defeat those enemies. French leaders became the bloodstained dictatorial oppressors from which they desperately fought to save their countrymen. Step by step, revolutionaries and their leaders became the firestorm they tried to extinguish.


1. Dena Goodman, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994); D.M.G. Sutherland, France 1789-1815: Revolution and Counterrevolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986), 37.
2. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 22.
3. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 59.
4. R.R. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of Terror in the French Revolution (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989), 18-19.
5. Timothy Tackett, When the King Took Flight (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013), 10.
6. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 80, 114.
7. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 49; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 87.
8. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 112.
9. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 159-160.
10. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 19-22.
11. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 21, 80-81, 95, 97.
12. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 99.
13. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 97, 116; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 13.
14. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 122; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 184.
15. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 183, 189.
16. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124.
17. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 124-125; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 168.
18. Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 157-158, 189-190.
19. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 127; Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 166, 167.
20. Tackett, When the King Took Flight, 203.
21. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 154-155.
22. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 167, 170.
23. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 56.
24. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 208-210, 212, 217.
25. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 192, 202, 208.
26. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 39. 74-77.
27. Sutherland, France 1789-1815, 224, 226, 228.
28. Palmer, Twelve Who Ruled, 28, 39. 58.


BOOKS CONSULTED FOR THIS ESSAY

Goodman, Dena. The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1994.

Palmer, R.R. Twelve Who Ruled: The Year of the Terror in the French Revolution. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1989.

Sutherland, D.M.G. France 1789-1815: Revolution and Counterrevolution. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Tackett, Timothy. When the King Took Flight. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2003.

Kate Stone’s Civil War: We enjoy our ease


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From 2012 to 2015, Stillness of Heart will share interesting excerpts from the extraordinary diary of Kate Stone, who chronicled her Louisiana family’s turbulent experiences throughout the Civil War era.

Learn more about Stone’s amazing life in 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864, 1865 and beyond. Click on each year to read more about her experiences. You can read the entire journal online here.

(Photo edited by Bob Rowen)

As Stone loses another brother to the Confederate Army, she also records the hanging of two Missouri spies.

Aug. 23, 1864

Near Oak Ridge, La.

Mamma and I came out to Monroe [La.] and Jimmy joined the army. Mamma and I stopped here at Col. Templeton’s, and then Mamma went on to the river and stayed with Mrs. Newman. She went in the old Jersey but came back in the pretty carriage that we have been wanting ever since we left home. She brought out a carriage load of dry goods that were most welcome.

After staying here a few days, she returned to Monroe for a little stay with Mrs. Wadley and then on home by way of Homer where so many of our friends are established. We stopped there coming out, and they greeted us most cordially. We could not make much of a visit as Jimmy and Mamma were anxious to get on. Mrs. Templeton’s family all insisted on my remaining with them until fall, and then I could go back to Texas with Col. Templeton, who will go out to where the Negroes are beyond Tyler.

Jimmy’s command was camped near here and I could see much of him. Mamma and I knew it would be a delightful visit, and as she unselfishly and I selfishly wanted to stay, I did so and am having a most lovely time. All the family are so kind. …

What a horrible tragedy, the death of Mrs. Hull’s two brothers, hanged as spies in Missouri where they had gone in disguise to recruit for Col. Hull’s regiment. They were with him but he escaped and had the hardihood to go and see them hanged with the faint hope that he might effect their escape. But of course that was hopeless. He made his way out of the state with some men and met a number who knew him but was not betrayed. The men hanged were two gallant young officers of excellent family. I cannot recall their names just now, but their father was the editor and proprietor of one of the leading St. Louis papers and left a large fortune. Poor Mrs. Hull is heartbroken.

It is very warm but we enjoy our ease with open doors and windows, undressed and lounging around. No gentlemen staying in the house to molest or make us afraid. Emmie is busy on a dress that she has had on hand for two weeks. Mary is practicing a delightful concord of sweet sounds, and I have been working on a flannel shirt for Jimmy. …

Dealing with the real America


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Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.
A review essay by Fernando Ortiz Jr.

Discussed in this essay:
Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City. By Lorrin Thomas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010. Pp. 354, $35.00

*****

Throughout the twentieth century, Puerto Ricans yearned for political respect from the United States. In Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City, Lorrin Thomas explores how the demand for equal citizenship evolved into a larger, more noble demand for political recognition when Puerto Ricans realized the mere status of citizen would never sufficiently fulfill their political, social, and economic expectations as conquered members of the American republic.1

The U.S., Thomas explains, conquered Puerto Rico as part of its victorious 1898 war against the remnants of the Spanish Empire. Civilian island government was restored in 1900, and in 1917 the Jones Act declared Puerto Ricans were U.S. citizens. Few were happy with the arrangement. The American political elite didn’t want a whole new set of minorities integrated into the U.S. social and political calculus, and islander nationalists wanted independence from their conqueror. Some moderates looked forward to what membership among the U.S. states might offer, but those first rays of hope were quickly clouded. Puerto Ricans were marginalized as colonial Caribbean illiterates who could not rise to the level of political involvement equaling their mainland step-siblings. They were dismissed as one more set of brown or black people who needed “guidance” from experienced Anglo Americans in order to build a proper democratic community. Thomas persuasively argues that Puerto Ricans “wanted recognition beyond citizenship, a recognition that promises not just formal equality within the state but also the respect and dignity that come from real equality.” She uses Puerto Ricans living in New York as a core sample of the overall relationship between the U.S. and Puerto Rico, in all its torment, tragedy, and unrest.2

Thomas uses an interesting variety of primary and secondary sources, including oral histories, news articles, memoirs, and personal interviews, to illustrate the evolution of Puerto Rican political sensibilities throughout the twentieth century. In the two decades before World War II, Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S., especially New York, and built new communities from which they hoped to participate fully in the citizenship Congress unilaterally granted them. Instead, Puerto Ricans engaged in choques — clashes with other minority groups who saw them as a threat. Some Puerto Ricans embraced the concept of latinidad, a working-class identity that elevated their self-perception from U.S. citizen to citizen of the U.S. and Latin America, a politically transcendent entity equipped to move easily across ethnic, racial, and political barriers. Some Puerto Rican leftists even reached out to support allies in the Spanish Civil War. As the Great Depression ravaged U.S. communities, Puerto Ricans demanded equal access to jobs and government assistance. They also plugged their political discourse into national debates and concerns over European fascism and Asian imperialism, pointing to themselves as the discrepancy in the U.S. view of itself as the glowing torch of morality, idealism, and freedom guiding the world out of its darkest age. “Discourses of human rights and recognition,” Thomas deftly highlights, “shared a sometimes paradoxical balance of demands: both called for universal equality as well as the acknowledgement of particular group difference … both sought to elevate the idea of the category of ‘citizen’ in a flawed, liberal democracy.” The Puerto Rican debates anticipated by a decade the nationalist, imperialist, and human rights debates that animated the bloodied ash heaps of Europe, Africa, and South and Southeast Asia.3

By the 1950s, Puerto Rican hopes for independence faded. The Cold War began, Thomas explains, and Puerto Rico needed to be a showcase of what the U.S. could do for Latin American societies tempted to ally themselves with the Soviet Union. The dominant Puerto Rican discourses looked beyond the empty promise of citizenship to political and social recognition as new liberalist activism aimed to “save” Puerto Rican through economic and social development.4

The failure of American democracy to fulfill New York Puerto Ricans’ expectations of equal access to decent housing, failure to provide bilingual education, failure to provide jobs, and failure to live up to the tenets of its most attractive idealism all combined to convince Puerto Rican political leaders that even with the guarantee of citizenship, even with the opportunity to serve in the military, and even with the option of building a new life on the mainland, Puerto Ricans would never been seen as a part of the U.S. except on a map. Puerto Ricans, Thomas explains, supported politicians who fought for them within the government, like New York legislator Oscar Garcia Rivera, U.S. Rep. Vito Marcantonio, and Puerto Rico Gov. Jesus Pinero. They also supported advocates who took their voices to the streets, like the Young Lords, and labor leaders who staged strikes. In the ivory towers, academics tried to formulate curricula to properly teach Puerto Rico-specific issues of empty citizenship, imperialism, economic development, migration, and Caribbean racism. Puerto Ricans, Thomas argues, hoped to fully enjoy the benefits of “inclusion, belonging, and rights,” especially after World War II, when the U.S. pledged to support freedom and nationalism for all nations, but Puerto Ricans could never escape the realities that proved far more potent and damaging than the dreaminess of liberal American promises.5

Thomas deftly points out that Puerto Ricans “challenged the United States’ liberal democracy to acknowledge the reasons that their group experienced such persistent failures of justice.” Puerto Ricans remain the ultimate reminder to liberal idealists of the failure of a “democratic liberal society” that cannot fully acknowledge the “injustices of recognition.”6

By the 1970s, the energy coursing through Puerto Rican activism came from the grassroots, as “garbage strikes, rent strikes, [and] university takeovers” replaced measured political and academic debates as Puerto Rican expressions of frustration. Thomas paints a vibrant portrait of the blossoming Nuyorican cultural movements, dominated by playwrights and poets, though it’s also an example of the fragmentation of the overall fight for Puerto Rican recognition. Thomas explains that the old sense of multiple groups working together had generally faded, necessitating the renewal spearheaded by the arts. By the 1980s, Thomas explains, academics trying to establish Puerto Rican studies as a necessary field for U.S. history, government, and politics found themselves isolated or shuffled away under dismissive ethnic studies categories, their arguments thrown into a heap of identity politics with all the intellectual dignity of a demolition derby.7

By the end of the twentieth century, the academic world still struggled for a dignified place for Puerto Rico at the U.S. table. The Latino Cultural Studies Working Group embraced the concept of “cultural citizenship,” arguing that anyone who contributed to the “economic and cultural wealth of the country” should be recognized as citizens. It was a political view embracing Puerto Ricans, undocumented immigrants, and other marginalized groups whose treatment in the U.S. set aflame the very banner of ideals the U.S. officially waved to the world’s tired masses.8

The root of the resistance to granting what Puerto Ricans demanded and deserved, Thomas argues throughout, is the cost of recognition. Would recognition merely acknowledge a differentiating quality of the Puerto Rican entity, or would that simply be the key unlocking a necessary “redistribution of economic resources and social and political power”? Would the elevating recognition change the U.S. more than it would Puerto Rico? Do citizens now recognized with full equality have the right to demand more from not just their government, but also from their fellow mainland citizens? Does their recognition also require that the U.S. admit its own culpability in the mistreatment of Puerto Ricans and the contradictions inherent in its own internationally advertised moral superiority?9

Thomas hints that the U.S.-Puerto Rican relationship is so weighed down by history, economic scaffolding, a nascent political discrimination that Puerto Ricans have little hope of achieving their goal of recognition. It is a sad tribute to the power of the Puerto Rican argument. Whatever aspect of political debate it touches, it promises (some would say threatens) to redefine the stakes, to demand a realistic recognition of the limits of a democratic republic and its failings, and to unveil a properly complex calculation of what it means to be a citizen in a globalized society. Dealing with Puerto Rico means dealing with the key issues of the 21st century. Few in the U.S. government may have the stomach for that rollercoaster.


1. Lorrin Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen: History and Political Identity in Twentieth-Century New York City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
2. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 250.
3. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 8, 53, 129, 5.
4. Laura Briggs, Reproducing Empire: Race, Empire, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002). Her online book is an excellent illustration of medical and social development projects in postwar Puerto Rico.
5. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 12-13, 21.
6. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 21.
7. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 251.
8. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 17.
9. Thomas, Puerto Rican Citizen, 16.
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a TOP 10 shop...spring 2010

The Ugly Truth

Zionism, Jewish extremism and a few other nasty items making our world uninhabitable today

Insomniaxed Logs

Sleep is anathema

The Chris Murray Report

A public forum for sports, politics and culture

Humorous Dispassionate

Proverbs, Jokes, Humor, Sayings, Quotes

First Draft

Liberal Politics, Media Criticism & General Mayhem

Hola.

Just Some Random Posts from a Person With Too Many Thoughts

4WRD THNKN DAD

One dads observations, opinions, reactions,and rants

Simotron

Science and Fiction

Bone Hill

poetry - flash fiction - short form writing - images by Gene G. McLaughlin and homepage for the the novel Bone Hill - A Novel of West Scranton by Gene S. McLaughlin

Random Thoughts on Everything & Nothing

(How's that for original?)

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