Popular Expression and National Identity in Puerto Rico: The Struggle for Self, Community, and Nation

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University Press of Florida, 1998 - Psychology - 332 pages

"Well-written and powerfully argued. . . . I know of no other work [on the subject] as comprehensive in its scope, extensive in its analysis, coherent in its internal argument, and consistent in its evaluated sources."--Franklin W. Knight, Johns Hopkins University

In this bold social history, Lillian Guerra explores the nature of popular-class and elite political consciousness in Puerto Rico from 1898 to 1940, the period when North American colonialism was taking shape. Through the prisms of gender, race, and class she analyzes the folk sayings of subalterns in tandem with the literary production of the intelligentsia, producing a mosaic of debate, dissent, and affirmation regarding Puerto Rican identity.

The book focuses on two sources of intellectual and creative expression--a vast and largely unstudied collection of folk tales, songs, and riddles (the 1914 Mason collection) and the essayist movement (including writers such as Antonia Pedreira, Miguel Melendez Munoz, and Luis Munoz Marin), which appropriated the figure of the Puerto Rican peasant as a symbol of national identity. From these sources Guerra mines a spectrum of opinions and beliefs about the world of the popular classes and she demonstrates that their songs, word-play, and narrative expression formed the nexus for engagement with the elite. What results is an image of the Puerto Rican peasant that works both against and in collusion with elite society.

Guerra's conclusions about class struggle for identity under North American imperialism challenge readers to compare the historical case of Puerto Rico with other colonial cases, not just in the Caribbean but throughout the Americas.


Lillian Guerra is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Scholarship for 1995-96 and the Dorothy Danforth Compton Fellowship of the Institute for the Study of World Politics in 1997.

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