Academic journal article Centro Journal

The Not-So-Docile Puerto Rican: Students Resist Americanization, 1930

Academic journal article Centro Journal

The Not-So-Docile Puerto Rican: Students Resist Americanization, 1930

Article excerpt

On may 19, 1930, a crowd of students strode down the steep, green santa marta hills surrounding the polytechnic Iinstitute and marched a mile to the center of san germán, a town in southwestern puerto rico. Carrying black flags, setting off fireworks, and making music, they clamored for the resignation of the Dean of Students, Charles Leker. They paraded to City Hall and past the house of an insular legislator, shouting "Down with Dean Leker!" A manifesto distributed to townspeople accused the "despotic" Leker of "trampling on the sacrosanct rights of all students" and proclaimed the righteousness of their "search for justice." Hearkening back to Puerto Rican patriots, the manifesto dramatically proclaimed

I will not fall, but if I do

I will fall blessing the cause

On which I have based my whole life.

Our protest is just,

Forward, always forward!1

This protest and consequent events, at a school founded by mainland Protestant missionaries, represented complex dynamics particular to the third decade of U.S. occupation of the island. These included both growing insular nationalism and the increased political power of Puerto Ricans who embraced Americanization, a multifaceted program initiated with the U.S. invasion in 1898. Both formal and informal, this modernization project included new U.S.-designed systems of governance, education, law, finance, and commerce. It also facilitated mainland corporations' access to Puerto Rico's resources through concessions and tax and tariff policies, producing radical changes in the insular political economy.

A central theme in Puerto Rican historiography, Americanization has been variously interpreted. Historian José-Manuel Navarro, for example, describes it as "assimilation and de-Puerto Ricanization" (Navarro 2002: 194-5). In contrast, historian Angel Quintero Rivera observes that Americanization "resonated with the educated, social- reformist professional sector" of Puerto Rico's Republican Party (Quintero Rivera: 1977, cited in Cabán 1999: 169). Political scientist Pedro Cabán views Americanization through the lens of accommodation and resistance, emphasizing Puerto Ricans' capacity for negotiating with the colonial state. Sociologist Samuel Silva Gotay's definitive work on missionaries and Americanization highlights its complexity, defining it as a profound process congruent with the values, principles, dynamics, and institutions derived from turn-of-the-century U.S. liberal capitalism (Silva Gotay 1997: 277).

This essay views Americanization as a dynamic, polyvalent, multi-directional process. While acknowledging the weight of U.S. power, it seeks to enrich our understanding of cultural imperialism by transcending the binaries of nationalism/colonialism. Framing Americanization as monolithic, implacable, and categorically imposed accounts for neither the contingent nature of colonizing relations nor Americanization's unintended consequences; additionally, it underemphasizes Puerto Ricans' agency. Analyzing the student revolt, this essay argues that, functioning as a venue for contesting Americanization, Polytechnic's trajectory reflects the fluid, sometimes contradictory nature of Americanization and that Puerto Ricans' responses to the revolt demonstrate not only the power of "the colonized," but also their heterogeneity. It asks the following questions: How does cultural imperialism unfold on the ground? Why did students at a Protestant missionary school renowned for its discipline, moderation, and respect for authority rebel? How does one explain Puerto Ricans' radically different and vehement responses to the revolt? What can the revolt and its aftermath tell us about Americanization in particular and cultural imperialism in general?

Founded by Presbyterian missionaries, Poly (the school's nickname) both promoted and constituted Americanization. Missionaries explicitly articulated the consonance of their goals with those of the colonial state. …

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