Rent Marqués's The Oxcart
John V. Antush
The postcolonial text inscribes the dialectical interaction between imperial hegemonic systems and their local subversions; it also creates a new discourse at their interface. No return is possible to a precolonial purity, nor can a new national literature come into being entirely free of its colonial enterprise. Puerto Rican literature presents a complex creative effort to demystify the structures of colonial and postcolonial domination. The process of decolonization in Puerto Rico has been slow, ambiguous, and incomplete. A Spanish colony for over four hundred years, Puerto Rico has deep roots in an old rich European culture, but by the middle of the nineteenth century the island had long been developing its own independent sense of itself. In 1898, when the United States invaded Puerto Rico, this national identity was still in the making. The class, ethnic, and economic divisions on the island undermined the drive to independence; Puerto Rico was, as José Luis González puts it, a country still "on the way to nationhood" (15). In 1917 the Jones Act conferred United States citizenship on Puerto Ricans who wanted it and established Puerto Rico as an "organized but unincorporated" territory. After a series of other decolonizing moves, Congress passed an amendment in 1947 allowing the islanders to elect their own governor. By 1952, Congress had turned over to the people of Puerto Rico the power to create their own constitution, legislature, and judiciary; and Puerto Rico became the Associated Free State or Commonwealth. The United States controls the island's foreign relations and defense. This arrangement was ratified by a large number of islanders in a popular referendum.
As United States citizens but without the full rights of statehood, Puerto Ricans hold a unique position somewhere between colonial and postcolonial. Over the last nearly one hundred years, Puerto Rican literature has sought to express the complex nature of the Puerto Rican national identity (puertorriqueñidad) set off from and defined against the image of the "North American." The paradoxical result has not been something unAmerican but rather the expression of a national spirit that is quintessentially American in its distinctive revolutionizing voice. In his essay "Literary Pessimism and Political Optimism" René Marqués describes the "rapid North Americanization of the Puerto Ricans" during the 1950s. However, what José Luis González