Latin America in the Civil War Era: A working bibliography and research memo

This evolving list is the first of many steps of an intellectual process to comprehend the scope of relevant literature in this field. It is a very broad initial attempt to identify important books, essays, articles, memoirs, archival collections and other primary and secondary sources.

 

The U.S. Civil War sent economic, political and social shockwaves around the world. My great objective is to understand how they were felt primarily throughout Latin America, specifically throughout the republican and imperial governments, the intelligentsia, the diplomatic circles, the street-level multiracial societies, and the military commands.

I intend to illustrate these histories through biography whenever possible and through narrative history in general. I may be fashionably late to the transnational party, but I definitely intend to earn my place among its best scholars.

This evolving list is the first of many steps of an intellectual process to comprehend the scope of relevant literature in this field. It is a very broad initial attempt to identify important books, essays, articles, memoirs, archival collections and other primary and secondary sources.

A second, sharpened, edited version of this bibliography will follow in the coming months. The third step will be an annotated bibliography. That will then lead to a comprehensive review essay analyzing the evolution of the literature, the conversations and the debates. The essay will also identify potential avenues of future research and the challenges of traveling down those avenues. That essay will, in part, guide my future scholarly ambitions and plans.

I have a very long and very beautiful intellectual journey ahead of me. I certainly welcome corrections, comments and suggestions as this self-introductory process continues. You may reach me at this address: remembrance_@hotmail.com.

WORKING BIBLIOGRAPHY (by region)

MEXICO

Aldis, Owen F. “Louis Napoleon and the Southern Confederacy,” North American Review 129 (October 1879): 342-362.

Bacha-Garza, Roseann, Christopher L. Miller and Russell K. Skowronek. The Civil War on the Rio Grande, 1846-1876. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2019.

Barker, Nancy N. “Monarchy in Mexico: Harebrained Scheme or Well-Considered Prospect?” The Journal of Modern History 48, no. 1 (March 1976): 51-68.

Brettle, Adrian Robert. “The Fortunes of War: Confederate Expansionist Ambitions During the American Civil War.” PhD diss. University of Virginia, 2014.

Callahan, James Morton. Evolution of Seward’s Mexican Policy. West Virginia University Studies in American History ser. 1, Diplomatic History, nos. 4, 5, and 6. Morgantown, W.Va.: West Virginia University, 1909.

Downs, Gregory P. “The Mexicanization of American Politics: The United States’ Transnational Path from Civil War to Stabilization.” American Historical Review 117 (April 2012): 408.

Frazier, Robert W. “Latin American Projects to Aid Mexico during the French Intervention,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 28 (August 1948): 370-386.

Gonzalez-Quiroga, Miguel Angel. “Conflict and Cooperation in the Making of Texas-Mexico Border Society, 1840-1880” in Bridging National Borders in North America: Transnational and Comparative Histories, 33-58, edited by Benjamin H. Johnson and Andrew R. Graybill. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010.

Hanna, A.J. “The Role of Matthew Fontaine Maury in the Mexican Empire,” Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 55 (April 1947): 105-125.

Hanna, Kathryn Abbey. “The Roles of the South in the French Intervention in Mexico,” The Journal of Southern History 20, no. 1 (February 1954): 3-21.

—. Napoleon III and Mexico: American Triumph over Monarchy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1971.

Hardy, William E. “South of the Border: Ulysses S. Grant and the French Intervention.” Civil War History 54, no. 1 (March 2008): 63-86.

Hart, John Mason. Empire and Revolution: The Americans in Mexico since the Civil War. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

Irby, James. Backdoor at Bagdad: The Civil War on the Rio Grande. El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1977.

McAllen, M.M. Maximilian and Carlotta, Europe’s Last Empire in Mexico. San Antonio: Trinity University Press, 2014.

Martin, Percy F. Maximilian in Mexico: The Story of the French Intervention (1861-1867). New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1914.

Miller, Robert Ryal. “Matia Romero: Mexican Minister to the United States during the Juarez-Maximilian Era,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 45 (May 1964): 230.

—. “Arms across the Border: United States Aid to Juarez during the French Intervention in Mexico,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, n.s, 63, no. 6 (1973): 1-68.

Mora-Torres, Juan. The Making of the Mexican Border: The State, Capitalism, and Society and Nuevo Leon, 1848-1910. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2001.

Ridley, Jasper. Maximilian and Juarez. London: Constable, 2001.

Rister, Carl Coke. “Carlota: A Confederate Colony in Mexico,” The Journal of Southern History 11 (February 1945): 33-50.

Rolle, Andrew F. The Lost Cause: The Confederate Exodus to Mexico. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.

Schoonover, Thomas. Dollars Over Dominion: The Triumph of Liberalism in Mexican-United States Relations, 1861-1867. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978.

—., ed., Mexican Lobby: Matias Romero in Washington 1861-1867. Lexington, Ky: University of Kentucky Press, 1986.

Truett, Samuel. Fugitive Landscapes: The Forgotten History of the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Tyler, Ronnie C. Santiago Vidaurri and the Southern Confederacy. Austin: Texas State Historical Association, 1973.

Wahlstrom, Todd W. The Southern Exodus to Mexico: Migration across the Borderlands after the American Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

GENERAL SOUTH AMERICA

Ferris, Nathan L. “The Relations of the United States with South America during the Civil War,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 21 (February 1941): 51-78.

Fitz, Caitlin A. “The Hemispheric Dimensions of Early U.S. Nationalism: The War of 1812, Its Aftermath, and Spanish American Independence,” The Journal of American History 102 (September 2015): 356–379.

—. Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of Revolutions. New York: Norton, 2016.

Gobat, Michel. “The Invention of Latin America: The Transnational History of Anti-Imperialism, Democracy, and Race,” American Historical Review 118 (December 2013): 1345-1375.

Kelly, Patrick J. “The Cat’s-Paw: Confederate Ambitions in Latin America” in American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe and the Crisis of the 1860s. Edited by Don H. Doyle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

May, Robert E.. Manifest Destiny’s Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

—. Slavery, Race and Conquest in the Tropics: Lincoln, Douglass and the Future of Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Sanders, James E. The Vanguard of the Atlantic World: Creating Modernity, Nation, and Democracy in Nineteenth Century Latin America. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2014.

Scott, Rebecca, et. al. The Abolition of Slavery and the Aftermath of Emancipation in Brazil. Durham: Duke University Press, 1988.

Tenorio-Trillo, Mauricio. Latin America: The Allure and Power of an Idea. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017.

CHILE

Burr, Robert N. By Reason or Force: Chile and the Balancing of Power in South America, 1830-1905. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967.

PERU

Blanchard, Peter. Slavery and Abolition in Early Republican Peru. Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources Books, 1992.

“Emancipation Declared in Peru,” Anti-Slavery Reporter, July 2, 1855, 157.

GENERAL SPANISH CARIBBEAN

González-Quintero, Nicolás. “Empire, Slavery, and Exile in the 19th Century Spanish Caribbean.” PhD diss. University of Texas at Austin, 2020.

May, Robert E. The Southern Dream of a Caribbean Empire, 1854-1861. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1973.

Rugemer, Edward Bartlett. The Problem of Emancipation: The Caribbean Roots of the American Civil War. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008.

Schmidt-Nowara, Christopher. Empire and Antislavery: Spain, Cuba, and Puerto Rico, 1833-1870. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1999.

—. “From Aggression to Crisis: The Spanish Empire in the 1860s” in American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe and the Crisis of the 1860s. Edited by Don H. Doyle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

CUBA

Chaffin, Tom. Fatal Glory: Narciso López and the First Clandestine U.S. War Against Cuba. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1996.

Corwin, Arthur. Spain and the Abolition of Slavery in Cuba, 1817-1886. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1967.

Scott, Rebecca. Slave Emancipation in Cuba: The Transition to Free Labor, 1860-1899. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.

—. Degrees of Freedom: Louisiana and Cuba After Slavery. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

GENERAL U.S. CIVIL WAR

Barnes, James J., and Patience P. Barnes. The American Civil War Through British Eyes: Dispatches from British Diplomats. Kent, OH: Kent University Press, 2005.

Beckert, Sven. “Emancipation and Empire: Reconstructing the Worldwide Web of Cotton Production in the Age of the American Civil War,” American Historical Review 109 (December 2004): 1405-1438.

Bonner, Robert E. “The Salt Water Civil War: Thalassological Approaches, Ocean-Centered Opportunities,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 6, no. 2 (June 2016): 243-267.

Bowen, Wayne S. Spain and the American Civil War. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2011.

Crook, David Paul. The North, the South, and the Powers, 1861-1865. New York: Wiley, 1974.

—. Diplomacy during the Civil War. New York: Wiley, 1975.

Davis, Jefferson. The Papers of Jefferson Davis. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971 to present.

Davis, William C. “Confederate Exiles.” American History Illustrated 5, no. 3 (June 1970): 30-43.

Doyle, Don H. The Cause of All Nations: An International History of the American Civil War. New York: Basic Books, 2015.

Egerton, Douglas R. “Rethinking Atlantic Historiography in a Postcolonial Era: The Civil War in a Global Perspective,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 1, no. 1 (March 2011): 79-95.

Eichhorn, Niels. “North Atlantic Trade in the Mid-Nineteenth Century: A Case for Peace during the American Civil War,” Civil War History 1, no. 2 (June 2015): 138-172.

Faust, Drew Gilpin. Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War. Durham: University of North Carolina Press, 2004.

Ferris, Norman B. Desperate Diplomacy: William H. Seward’s Foreign Policy, 1861. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976.

Fleche, Andre. Revolution of 1861: The American Civil War in the Age of Nationalist Conflict. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2011.

Foreman, Amanda. A World on Fire: Britain’s Crucial Role in the American Civil War. New York: Random House, 2010.

Grant, U.S. The Papers of Ulysses S. Grant. Edited by John Y. Simon. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1967-1991.

—. The Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant. New York: C.L. Webster, 1886.

Grimsley, Mark, and Brooks D. Simpson, eds. The Collapse of the Confederacy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2001.

Hahn, Steven. “What Sort of World Did the Civil War Make?” in The World the Civil War Made. Edited by Gregory P. Downs and Kate Masur. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

Hubbard, Charles M. The Burden of Confederate Diplomacy. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

Hunt, Jeffrey William. The Last Battle of the Civil War: Palmetto Ranch. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Jones, Howard. Union in Peril: The Crisis Over British Intervention in the Civil War. Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 1997.

–. Abraham Lincoln and a New Birth of Freedom: The Union and Slavery in the Diplomacy of the Civil War. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

–. Blue and Gray Diplomacy: A History of Union and Confederate Foreign Relations. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

Kelly, Patrick J. “The North American Crisis of the 1860s,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 3 (September 2012): 337-368.

—. “1848 and the Transnational Turn in Civil War History,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 4, no. 3 (September 2014): 431-443.

Kerby, Robert L. Kirby Smith’s Confederacy: The Trans-Mississippi South, 1863-1865. New York: Columbia University Press, 1972.

Lincoln, Abraham. The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln. Edited by Roy P. Basler. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1953-1955.

Lonn, Ella. Foreigners in the Confederacy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002.

McDaniel, W. Caleb, and Bethany L. Johnson. “New Approaches to Internationalizing the History of the Civil War Era: An Introduction,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 2, no. 2 (June 2012): 145-150.

McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Mahin, Dean P. One War at a Time: The International Dimensions of the U.S. Civil War. Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1999.

May, Robert E., ed. The Union, the Confederacy, and the Atlantic Rim. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1995.

Owsley, Frank Lawrence. King Cotton Diplomacy: Foreign Relations of the Confederate States of America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959.

Prior, David M. et. al. “Teaching the Civil War in Global Context: A Discussion,” The Journal of the Civil War Era 5, no. 1 (March 2015): 126-153.

Robinson, Michael. “William Henry Seward and the Onset of the Secession Crisis,” Civil War History 59, no. 1 (March 2013): 32-66.

Sexton, Jay. “The Civil War and U.S. World Power” in American Civil Wars: The United States, Latin America, Europe and the Crisis of the 1860s. Edited by Doyle. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

Stokes, Donald. The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Townsend, Stephen A. The Yankee Invasion of Texas. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2006.

Tucker, Phillip Thomas. The Final Fury: Palmito Ranch, The Last Battle of the Civil War. Mechanicsburg, Pa.: Stackpole Books, 2001.

Tyrner-Tyrnauer, A.R. Lincoln and the Emperors. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1962.

U.S. War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901.

Zimmerman, Andrew. “From the Second American Revolution to the First International and Back Again: Marxism, the Popular Front, and the American Civil War” in The World the Civil War Made. Edited by Downs and Kate Masur. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015.

GENERAL WORKS

Baptist, Edward E. The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

Bayly, C.A. The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 2004: 165-166.

Beckert, Sven, “Merchants and Manufacturers in the Antebellum North” in Ruling America: A History of Wealth and Power in a Democracy. Edited by Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

—. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Knopf, 2014.

Bender, Thomas, ed. Rethinking American History in a Global Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

—. A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History. New York: Hill and Wang, 2006.

Bensel, Richard Franklin. Yankee Leviathan: The Origins of Central State Authority in America, 1859-1877. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Geyer, Michael, and Charles Bright. “Global Violence and Nationalizing Wars in Eurasia and America: The Geo Politics of War in the Mid-Nineteenth Century,” Comparative Studies in History and Society, 38, no. 4, (October 1996): 619-657.

Grandin, Greg. “The Liberal Tradition in the Americas: Rights, Sovereignty, and the Origins of Multilateralism,” American Historical Review 117 (February 2012): 68-91.

Greene, Jack P., and Philip D. Morgan, eds. Atlantic History: A Critical Reappraisal. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Guterl, Matthew. American Mediterranean: Southern Slaveholders in the Age of Emancipation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008.

Hamalainen, Pekka. The Comanche Empire. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009.

Johnson, Walter. Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.

—. River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2013.

Karp, Matthew. This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.

LaFeber, Walter. The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansion, 1860-1898. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1963.

Perkins, Dexter. The Monroe Doctrine, 1826-1867. Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1965.

Roediger, David R. The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class. New York: Verso Books, 2007.

Rothman, Adam, “The Slave Power in the United States, 1783-1865” in Ruling America: A History of Wealth and Power in a Democracy. Edited by Steve Fraser and Gary Gerstle. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.

Sexton, Jay. The Monroe Doctrine: Empire and Nation in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Hill & Wang, 2012.

Whitaker, Arthur P. “The Origins of the Western Hemisphere Idea,” Proceedings of the American Philosophy Society 98 (October 15, 1954): 323.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Dealing when a friend has a baby / America beyond Trump / Powerless Puerto Rico / Dancing with Madonna / Loving your library

This week: Dealing when a friend has a baby / America beyond Trump / Powerless Puerto Rico / Dancing with Madonna / Loving your library

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. A Friend’s Pregnancy
By Julia Wertz | The New Yorker | October 2016
“I was happy for her, but I was afraid it would have a negative impact on our relationship. It was certainly not what I wanted, but I knew such an epic life event would change our relationship irrevocably, and I was scared.”

2. War Without End
By C.J. Chivers | The New York Times Magazine | August 2018
“The Pentagon’s failed campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan left a generation of soldiers with little to fight for but one another.”

3. Planning for the Post-Trump Wreckage
By Stephen M. Walt | Foreign Policy | August 2018
“When the president eventually exits the White House, the rest of us will quickly have to make sense of the world he’s left behind.”

4. What Happened in the Dark: Puerto Rico’s Year of Fighting for Power
By Daniel Alarcon | Wired | August 2018
“More Americans rely on Puerto Rico’s grid than on any other public electric utility. How one renegade plant worker led them through the shadows.”

5. Nuance: A Love Story
By Meghan Daum | Medium | August 2018
“My affair with the intellectual dark web”

6. 2001 Is Still Teaching Us How to Pay Attention to Movies
By Colin Fleming | Slate | August 2018
“Your mind need not be going.”

7. Step one for befriending a goat: Smile
By Karin Brulliard | Animalia :: The Washington Post | August 2018
“Goat subjects … had already shown themselves to be adept at reading subtle human body language. Now, the researchers have found, goats are also able to distinguish happy people faces from sad ones — and they prefer happy.”

8. Dancing with Madonna Kept Me Alive
By Salim Gauwloos | Outlook :: BBC World Service | July 2018
“Salim Gauwloos became famous dancing with Madonna on her iconic Blond Ambition tour. Madonna used the tour to promote freedom of sexuality and sexual health. All of this made a young Salim feel extremely uncomfortable. The reason he was so anxious was that he was harbouring a secret.”

9. The Dos and Don’ts of Supporting Your Local Library
By Kristin Arnett | LitHub | August 2018
“For God’s sake, do not recatalog a book with Sharpie”

10. My son, Osama: the al-Qaida leader’s mother speaks for the first time
By Martin Chulov | The Guardian | August 2018
“Nearly 17 years since 9/11, Osama bin Laden’s family remains an influential part of Saudi society – as well as a reminder of the darkest moment in the kingdom’s history. Can they escape his legacy”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Hollywood in Trump’s America / Don’t be scared of the dark / The worldview of Sarah Sanders / The anthem of Puerto Rico / The future of journalism school

This week: Hollywood in Trump’s America / Don’t be scared of the dark / The worldview of Sarah Sanders / The anthem of Puerto Rico / The future of journalism school

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Disruption, Consolidation, Uncertainty: Welcome to Hollywood’s Age of Anxiety
By Stephen Galloway | The Hollywood Reporter | July 2018
“Speak to writers, producers, actors and executives … and you’ll have trouble finding people who won’t admit to heightened feelings of stress, anxiety and depression, three interlinked mental-health issues that have escalated over the past decade in the entertainment sector.”

2. The Quiet Anger of Adam Schiff
By Andy Kroll | The California Sunday Magazine | July 2018
“Two years ago, he was a respected but little-known congressman from Los Angeles. Today, he’s the face of the Democrats’ opposition to Trump.”

3. What Is Less Scary in the Dark
By Cindi May | Scientific American | July 2018
“There is a way that the dark makes us feel safer — and this has implications for our health”

4. Never Trumpers Will Want to Read This History Lesson
By Joshua Zeitz | Politico Magazine | July 2018
“In the 1850s, disaffected Democrats made the wrenching choice to leave their party to save American democracy. Here’s what happened.”

5. The World Burns. Sarah Sanders Says This Is Fine.
By Megan Garber | The Atlantic | July 2018
“The White House press secretary has set a new precedent: Partisanship over patriotism. Victory over truth.”

6. U.S. Army Mirrored Amazon’s HQ2 Search Tactics in Choosing New Futures Command Location
By Michael Hardy | Texas Monthly | July 2018
“The Army chose Austin, citing its entrepreneurial culture and incentives from UT.”

7. The world’s top beaches: a statistician’s guide
By James Tozier | 1843 Magazine :: The Economist | July 2018
“Where to get the best tan for the best price”

8. Bomba: The Enduring Anthem of Puerto Rico
By Rose Marie Cromwell, Lauren Du Graf and Eve Lyons | The New York Times | July 2018
“The resurgence of a traditional Afro-Puerto Rican musical genre owes something to formal experimentation. But some traditionalists fear that its roots are at risk.”

9. 150 Cheers for the 14th Amendment
By Amanda Bellows | The New York Times | July 2018
“In the last 50 years, the Supreme Court’s evolving interpretations of the 14th Amendment have led to an expansion of civil rights. Its decisions have also produced a system of federalism that significantly differs from that of 1868 through the reallocation of power from the states to the federal government. Thanks to the 14th Amendment, with its plain text authorizing Congress to act in perpetuity, the contours of our federal system continue to shift.”

10. Do we need J-schools
By Bill Grueskin, Felix Salmon, and Alexandria Neason | Columbia Journalism Review | Spring/Summer 2018
“The role of a reporter is shifting, as are the economics of education. With this new calculus, does journalism school still have a place in our profession”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Versace is back / Women in tech / The history of life after death / The reality of Jack Ruby / Trump and Castro’s Cuba / Puerto Rico still crippled after Maria

This week: Versace is back / Women in tech / The history of life after death / The reality of Jack Ruby / Trump and Castro’s Cuba / Puerto Rico still crippled after Maria

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Easter Island Is Eroding
By Nicholas Casey and Josh Haner | The New York Times | March 2018
“Centuries ago, Easter Island’s civilization collapsed, but the statues left behind here are a reminder of how powerful it must have been. And now, many of the remains of that civilization may be erased, the United Nations warns, by the rising sea levels rapidly eroding Easter Island’s coasts.”

2. How women got squeezed out of tech
By Manuela Saragosa | BBC World Service | March 2018
“Women dominated the early days of programming — so how did men take over, and what can be done to balance things out again?”

3. Versace: the resurrection
By Luke Leitch | 1843 :: The Economist | April/May 2018
“Twenty-one years after her brother’s murder, Donatella Versace has revived the family brand. She tells Luke Leitch about her journey from the darkness to the light”

4. The Last Days of Jerry Brown
By Andy Kroll | California Sunday Magazine | March 2018
“After more than 40 years in public life, 15 as governor of California, he is as combative and contradictory as ever – and still trying to save the world from itself.”

5. Fine Specimens
By David S. Reynolds | The New York Review of Books | March 2018
“Americans in the second half of the nineteenth century had no sure prospect of resting in peace after death. If their bodies weren’t embalmed for public viewing or dug up for medical dissection, their bones were liable to be displayed in a museum. In some cases, their skin was used as book covers by bibliophiles and surgeons with a taste for human-hide binding.”

6. What 11 Female Authors Read When They’re Fed Up
By Madison Feller | Shondaland | March 2018
“Tayari Jones, Terese Marie Mailhot, and nine other women writers share the books that keep them keepin’ on.”

7. Who Was Jack Ruby?
By Gary Cartwright | Texas Monthly | November 1975
“How a small-time joint operator ushering in America’s age of violence.”

8. Up in smoke: should an author’s dying wishes be obeyed?
By Blake Morrison | The Guardian | March 2018
“Harper Lee never wanted Go Set a Watchman brought out, Sylvia Plath’s diary was burned by Ted Hughes — the controversial world of literary legacies.”

9. As Castro prepares to leave office, Trump’s Cuba policy is a road to nowhere
By Jon Lee Anderson | The New Yorker | March 2018
“Trump’s use of the bully pulpit to upbraid the island for its failings seems as hypocritical as it is counterproductive.”

10. 6 months after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico pleads for help
By Danica Coto | Associated Press | March 2018
“As the six-month anniversary of the Category 4 storm approaches, only a fraction of the $23 billion in congressionally approved funds has actually been spent in Puerto Rico. In February, a $4.7 billion loan approved last year for Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico was reduced by the U.S. Treasury Department to $2 billion for Puerto Rico, none of which has been disbursed.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: 2017’s few, terrible disasters / The life of former president Obama / An Inca code cracked / David Attenborough talks retirement / Eudora Welty, Margaret Atwood and the mystery of Mary Trump

This week: 2017’s few, terrible disasters / The life of former president Obama / An Inca code cracked / David Attenborough talks retirement / Eudora Welty, Margaret Atwood and the mystery of Mary Trump

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Disasters pound North America in 2017; overall down globally
By Seth Borenstein | Associated Press | December 2017
“Disasters kill about 30,000 people and affect about 215 million people a year. This year’s estimated toll was lower — about 6,000 people killed and 75 million affected. Was it random chance, statistical quirk or better preparedness? Experts aren’t certain, but say perhaps it’s a little bit of each.”

2. Obama’s post-presidential life: what does his second act have in store?
By Tom McCarthy | The Guardian | December 2017
“‘There is nothing more pathetic in life than a former president,’ said John Quincy Adams — but a year on, what to make of our most newly minted ex?”

3. Favorite Visual Stories Of 2017
By Emily Bogle | NPR | December 2017
“In 2017, politics dominated the news cycle along with the solar eclipse and hurricane coverage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.”

4. Margaret Atwood: the unlikely style soothsayer of 2017
By Hannah Marriott | The Guardian | December 2017
“Thanks to two hit adaptations of her books, the writer has had a big impact on fashion this year.”

5. Harvard student helps crack mystery of Inca code
By Cristela Guerra | The Boston Globe | December 2017
“The discovery could be a first step to unlocking far more Inca history.”

6. Humans can spot small signs of sickness at a glance, research suggests
By Nikola Davis | The Guardian | January 2018
“Humans may use a host of facial cues – visible just hours after an infection starts – to avoid contracting illnesses from others, study indicates.”

7. David Attenborough: I’ll retire if my work becomes substandard
By Graham Ruddick | The Guardian | January 2018
“In rare comments on subject of retirement, Blue Planet II narrator says physical problems could also force him to quit”

8. The ‘Nuclear Button’ Explained: For Starters, There’s No Button
By Russell Goldman | The New York Times | January 2018
“William Safire, the former New York Times columnist and presidential speechwriter, tracked the origin of the phrase ‘finger on the button’ to panic buttons found in World War II-era bombers. A pilot could ring a bell to signal that other crew members should jump from the plane because it had been damaged extensively. But the buttons were often triggered prematurely or unnecessarily by jittery pilots.”

9. Eudora Welty, The Art of Fiction No. 47
By Linda Kuehl | The Paris Review | Fall 1972
“Once the interview got underway, she grew more at ease. As she herself might say, she was ‘not unforthcoming.’ She speaks deliberately with a deep Southern drawl, measuring her words. She is extremely private and won’t reveal anything personal about herself.”

10. The Mystery of Mary Trump
By Michael Kruse | Politico Magazine | November/December 2017
“Donald Trump reveres his father but almost never talks about his mother. Why not?”
Also: Presidents and Their Moms, A Short History

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Raul Castro’s legacy / Tracking bad Texas weather / Wall Street in 2017 and Trump in 2018 / Maria and Puerto Rico / Stockbrokers and opiods

This week: Raul Castro’s legacy / Tracking bad Texas weather / Wall Street in 2017 and Trump in 2018 / Maria and Puerto Rico / Stockbrokers and opiods

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. What will be Raúl Castro’s legacy?
By Richard E. Feinberg | Brookings | December 2017
“Raúl initiated some policy innovations, deepened and consolidated others, and merely watched while forces beyond his control drove other changes. Regardless, these changes have paved the way for the successor generation of leaders — if they dare — to push Cuba forward into the 21st century.”

2. Web tools and apps to track weather emergencies in Texas
John Tedesco | August 2017
“Texas weather can be wild and dangerous … so here are some techniques that have helped me track the impact of storms, floods and other natural disasters in San Antonio and other parts of the state:”

3. The Wall Street epidemic being kept behind closed doors
By Gregory Bresiger | The New York Post | December 2017
“While the opioid epidemic ravages rural America, Wall Street is not immune to its scourge. In fact, given its unique pressures, the securities industry leaves its professionals particularly vulnerable to drug problems.”

4. Trump in 2018
Brookings | December 2017
“Brookings experts predict what President Trump’s second year in office will entail with regards to a wide range of policy areas.”
Also, from the Associated Press: Trump barrels into 2018 with fresh foreign fights on Twitter

5. Scrapyard or museum? After 10 years, still no firm plans for former carrier USS John F. Kennedy
By Joe Daraskevich | Florida Times-Union :: Stars & Stripes | December 2017
“The Navy recently removed the Kennedy from the list of ships earmarked for donation despite efforts in New England to display the vessel permanently. But the same group that tried to turn the Saratoga into a museum is still making a push to change the Navy’s mind, and another group is ready to jump in if they don’t’ succeed.”

6. The year of Trump has laid bare the US constitution’s serious flaws
By Jonathan Freedland | The Guardian | December 2017
“I once wrote a hymn of praise to the achievements of the founding fathers. There’s still much to celebrate — but their inspirational vision needs an urgent update.”

7. Everything Went Right for Markets in 2017 — Can That Continue?
By Corrie Driebusch | The Wall Street Journal | December 2017
“The market notched the most closing highs for the index in a single calendar year. Volatility swooned to historic lows and many global stock markets finished the year at or near records or multiyear highs.”

8. Cory Booker Loves Donald Trump
By Michael Kruse | Politico Magazine | November 2017
“The junior senator from New Jersey has a religious disdain for hateful rhetoric, even against his political enemies. Is he too nice to take on the president?”

9. Maria’s Bodies
By Mattathias Schwartz and Matt Black | New York Magazine | December 2017
“The hurricane in Puerto Rico has become a man-made disaster, with a death toll threatening to eclipse Katrina’s.”

10. The 20 Best Podcasts of 2017
By Emma Dibdin | Esquire | December 2017
“Whether you want to make sense of Trump’s America or pretend it’s not happening entirely, online broadcasting’s got your back.”

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: Trump and Putin / Da Vinci’s genius / Sexism and Clinton’s culpability / Tracing your Texas ancestry / A trans woman’s journey as Beyonce

This week: Trump and Putin / Da Vinci’s genius / Sexism and Clinton’s culpability / Tracing your Texas ancestry / A trans woman’s journey as Beyonce

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Why Putin Keeps Outsmarting Trump
By John McLaughlin | Politico Magazine | Nov. 17
“The Kremlin leader is trained to lie. Trust me, I ran the CIA: Believing anything he says is folly.”
Also, from The Economist: America’s foreign policy: embrace thugs, dictators and strongmen

2. Puerto Rico’s DIY Disaster Relief
By Molly Crabapple | NYT Daily :: The New York Review of Books | Nov. 17
“Two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, aid remained a bureaucratic quagmire, mismanaged by FEMA, the FBI, the US military, the laughably corrupt local government. The island looked like it was stuck somewhere between the nineteenth century and the apocalypse. But leftists, nationalists, socialists … were stepping up to rebuild their communities.”

3. Trump era sparks new debate about nuclear war authority
By Robert Burns | Associated Press | Nov. 19
“[W]hat would happen if an American president ordered a nuclear strike, for whatever reason, and the four-star general at Strategic Command balked or refused, believing it to be illegal?”

4. Latino vote
By Bill Lambrecht | San Antonio Express-News | Nov. 19
“Latino success in Virginia and across the country in recent elections continued a run of historic victories in 2017 and left leaders confident of their strategy heading into mid-term elections next year.”

5. What Made Leonardo da Vinci a Genius?
By Simon Worrall | National Geographic | Nov. 4
“Hint: The great Italian artist was interested in everything.”

6. Sexism on America’s Front Lines
By Susan B. Glasser | Politico Magazine | Nov. 6
“Six top national security pros sound off about an adversary closer to home: piggish men.”
Also, from The Atlantic: What Hillary Knew: Hillary Clinton once tweeted that ‘every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.’ What about Juanita Broaddrick?
Also, from the Guardian: I saw how we failed Bill Clinton’s accusers. We can’t do that again
Also, from the New York Post: Let’s just cancel the Oscars

7. ‘Everybody’s Cousins’: Tracing San Antonio Ancestry To 1718 And Beyond
By Norma Martinez | Texas Public Radio | Nov. 17
“A lot of South Texans can trace their ancestry back to 1718 and beyond. For those who can’t, a nonprofit is making it easier to follow their family tree.”

8. Becoming Beyoncé On Stage Helped One Trans Woman Come Into Her Own
By Danny Nett | Fandoms :: NPR | Nov. 19
“At first, she didn’t even have a strong, personal connection to Beyoncé the way people might expect, she says. That came later.”

9. Get lost in this visualization of interconnected global issues
By Robbie Gonzalez | Wired | Nov. 13
“[T]here’s more to Knowledge Maps than pretty diagrams. In fact, the tool’s utility becomes clear when you explore its less-mesmerizing features: a series of summaries and content feeds curated partly by humans and partly by machines.”

10. The Making of an American Nazi
By Luke O’Brien | The Atlantic | December 2017
“How did Andrew Anglin go from being an antiracist vegan to the alt-right’s most vicious troll and propagandist—and how might he be stopped?”

Loreta’s Civil War: Quite a brilliant audience

Velazquez ends her Caribbean tour in Havana, where she relaxes with relatives, makes a new friend, and confronts personal tragedy once again.

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 63: Velazquez ends her Caribbean tour in Havana, where she relaxes with relatives, makes a new friend, and confronts personal tragedy once again.

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Through the exertions of my friends to make my visit to St. Thomas a pleasant one, the time passed rapidly, and when the arrival of the steamer Pelyo gave me warning that I must prepare for my departure, I would gladly have prolonged my stay for a number of days more had it been possible to do so.

The time of leave-taking was come, however, and I was escorted on board the steamer by quite a large party, many of whom, as I said goodbye, eagerly requested me to correspond with them and to keep them posted about my movements as they expected that I would scarcely be satisfied unless I undertook some strange adventures.

The steamer stopped at Porto Rico but I did not go on shore, not liking the looks of the place. We only remained for a few hours to take in some freight and passengers and then were off to sea again. Among the passengers was a young Spanish officer. Capt. F. Martinez, whom I had met before and who knew that I had served in the Confederate army. He came up to me and gave an officer’s salute, at which I laughed and held out my hand to him, saying that the time for that sort of thing had passed. We then fell into an animated conversation about the war and other matter, and during the rest of the trip he paid me every attention in his power.

As we were promenading the deck together in the evening, he informed me that he was engaged to a young lady in Santiago de Cuba, and he was very solicitous that I should stop there and see her. I was not unwilling, as I had relations residing near the city whom I was anxious to visit, and so I made arrangements for a return to another of the homes of my childhood.

When we reached Santiago, I called with Capt. Martinez upon his betrothed and was much pleased to see that he had made so excellent a choice. The young lady was very pretty and amiable and belonged to a wealthy family.

Having notified my cousin, who was married to a Prussian gentleman, of my arrival, I went out to her home about ten miles in the country and remained a day or two with her.

In the city, I was waited upon by many distinguished people and was invited to dine at the mansion of the general in command of the Spanish forces. At this dinner my health was proposed, with some complimentary remarks, at which honor I was immensely flattered, and after it was over, the company adjourned to the grand plaza to listen to the military band and to see the beauty and fashion of Santiago.

Santiago de Cuba is a very old town, and it has an extensive commerce. The chief exports are coffee, sugar, cigars, and fruit. The harbor is a fine one, and during the war it was a favorite resort for blockade-runners.

The day after the dinner at the general’s mansion, I went on board the steamer and started for Havana. That city was reached in due time, and once more I found myself on familiar ground and among friends who were ready to extend me a hearty welcome for the sake of old times.

My brother’s family and other relatives resided outside of the walls. I sent them word of my arrival but did not go to the house, on account of differences with my sister-in-law. During my stay in Havana my brother visited me frequently, as did also my niece — my sister’s daughter — and my nephew, who acted as my escort to the theater and other places.

In addition to my relatives, I had many acquaintances in Havana who were glad to extend the hospitality of the place to me. Among others, Gen. Juaquin Mansana and the officers of his staff were all warm friends of mine, and they seemed never to tire of paying me attentions. I was also acquainted with a great number of people with whom I had had confidential business relations during the war, and they too did what they could to make the time pass pleasantly.

Shortly after I reached Havana, there was a grand religious festival, and, at the suggestion of Gen. Mansana, I consented to appear in the procession in uniform. The general, enjoining me to keep the matter a secret, presented me with a handsome Spanish military suit. I attired myself in this, and arranging my disguise so that my most intimate friends would not know me, I took my place in the procession in a carriage beside Col. Montero, which drove just behind that of the general.

The colonel especially requested me not to let the other officers and soldiers know who I was, as there might be some excitement created if any one suspected that a woman disguised as an officer was in the procession. I accordingly kept my secret and was not recognized. During the day, I … passed quite close to Mr. Savage, the United States consul, and the members of his staff, and it amused the general greatly to see that they had not the slightest suspicion as to who I was. I was also introduced to a number of ladies as a young Spanish officer who had been educated in England. …

This procession took place on Friday, and Gen. Mansana, as we were about starting out, told me that there was a steamer in the harbor with some emigrants on board who were going to South America. He asked me if I would not see them, and, by relating my experiences, try and persuade them to return home again. This I promised to do.

In the evening, after the ceremonies were over, we went to the theater, where we found quite a brilliant audience assembled. Before the performance was over, Gen. Mansana said that he was hungry and retired. The rest of the party remained until the curtain fell, when we went to a restaurant and had supper. After supper we drove to the Plaza de Armas, where a room had been assigned me in the palace, and I changed my costume as rapidly as I could, appearing once more in female attire.

As I was coming out. Col. Montero met me in the hall and said that the general had been taken quite sick. I asked if I could see him, and on a messenger being sent, word was conveyed to the colonel that the general wished to speak with him. He soon returned and invited me to go into the sick chamber. The general was in bed, and the doctor was in attendance on him. He complained of severe cramps but did not think that anything serious was the matter and invited me to call on him the next morning, when he expected to be better.

After breakfast, the next morning, I went to the general’s quarters but the guard had orders not to admit any one. I sent in my card, however, and in a few moments the chief of staff came down and asked me to walk up to the reception room. The surgeon in attendance made his appearance and said that the general was worse instead of better but that I could see him if I would promise not to speak. I accordingly went into the sick-room and found the general looking very bad indeed. He smiled at me and seemed to be glad that I had called. I then retired, as I found that I could be of no assistance, and went to see the emigrants.

I gave them an account of my experiences and observations in South America and advised them in the strongest possible terms not to pursue their journey any farther, but to return home, and, if they wanted to get away from the South, to go West. Some of them were much impressed with what I said and came on shore to see me. I invited them to the hotel to take dinner and went into the matter more particularly, showing them the great risks they would run and the small chance they would have of establishing themselves in a satisfactory manner.

This interference on my part was bitterly resented by some of the leaders of the expedition, who expressed a desire that I should not come on board the steamer again. I had no wish to do this, having performed my duty, and I was willing now that they should take their own course and abide the consequences, although I was sorry for some of the poor women who I knew would regret not having followed my advice.

My expostulations proved of no avail, and the steamer sailed for South America after her old, worn-out and worthless boiler had been patched. The vessel itself, like the boiler, was worn out, and they were obliged to put in at St. Thomas with her and charter another boat. Some of the people, I believe, returned to the United States from St. Thomas, while the rest were glad to get back the best way they could after a very brief experience of Para, the port for which they were bound. After reaching their destination and endeavoring to effect a settlement, they very soon came to the conclusion that my advice was good.

On Sunday morning I learned, to my infinite sorrow, that Gen. Mansana was dead. The funeral took place the next day, and the body, having been embalmed, was carried through the streets, followed by his carriage, dressed in crape, and his favorite horse. The funeral was an imposing but sorrowful spectacle, for the general was a good man, and although, like other public men, he had his enemies, he deserved and enjoyed a great popularity.

With this visit to Havana concluded my trip to South America and the West Indies. In some of its aspects it was far from being enjoyable, and yet, on the whole, I managed to have a pretty good time, and I did not regret the journey. I had learned a great deal about a part of the world that it was worthwhile to know something about, and I had met a great many good friends whom I was exceedingly glad to meet. Taking it all in all, the pleasures of the trip far more than counterbalanced its disagreeable features, and the main thing I had to complain of was that I returned to the United States with a much lighter pocket-book than when I set out.

Book gems of 2016, Part 4

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Latin America.

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Summer is upon us, and the season of leisure is the perfect time for new stories, characters, ideas, and adventures. Throughout the next few weeks, Stillness of Heart continues its occasional series of critical recommendations, from Civil War battle histories to memoirs, and from intellectual histories to photobooks almost as beautiful as the natural world they celebrate.

Read Part 1 of this 2016 series here and subsequent essays in this series here.

This week … a brief look at some of the best works on Latin America.

Emily Berquist Soule’s The Bishop’s Utopia: Envisioning Improvement in Colonial Peru (University of Pennsylvania Press, 320 pp., $36) tells the story of an incredible intellectual and scientific endeavor: the Spanish and Indian study of the cultures, botany, agricultural, and topography of northern Peru. Directing the project was Baltasar Jaime Martinez Companon, a Spanish bishop who also added to the collection of specimens a nine-volume series of books filled with images from throughout the region and painted by the Indians themselves. He intended to use the shipment of artwork and specimens to reassure Spanish officials that his part of Peru would be prosperous and peaceful. But for modern scholars, his efforts entrusted to us a snapshot of the era’s scientific understandings, Spanish cultural biases, and Indian artistic talents.

Karoline P. Cook’s Forbidden Passages: Muslims and Moriscos in Colonial Spanish America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 288 pp., $36) is a groundbreaking examination of the symbolic and religious significance of Moriscos — Muslims who converted to Christianity — in imperial Spain and in the Spanish New World. Spain would allow only Christians with long, verifiable Christian lineages to settle in the Spanish territories, but many moriscos secretly made the journey despite the mortal danger. Cook explores how these men and women, some still practicing Islam, introduced their faith to a new world, resisted Spanish persecution, and fought for their religious and political identities in hostile Spanish courtrooms. Cook’s work reminds today’s readers that personal struggles in this land over immigration, one’s place in society, religious freedom, and identity are nothing new, and neither are the moral determinations made to protect and defend those inherent human rights.

David F. Slade’s and Jerry W. Williams’s Lima fundada by Pedro de Peralta Barnuevo (University of North Carolina Press, 648 pp., $85) promises to be a magnificent achievement. In 1732, Peralta, a poet in Spanish Peru, wrote an epic poem that championed the notion that Peru belonged to the Peruvian descendants of Spanish conquerors. It criticized an imperial power structure that advanced the Spanish-born over the Peruvian-born. He considered it one of his greatest works. Since 1732, only fragments of his masterpiece have been republished, but the entire poem was never re-issued … until now, almost three centuries later.

Rafael Rojas’s Fighting over Fidel: The New York Intellectuals and the Cuban Revolution (Princeton University Press, 312 pp., $35, translated by Carl Good) is an incredible analysis of the searing currents of political thought coursing throughout New York City’s intellectual world and of the debate over the Cuban Revolution intensified that thinking. Rojas creates a vibrant swirling galaxy populated by brilliant writers, volatile artists, ambitious politicians, and fevered revolutionaries, all fighting over the ideals and consequences of Cold War ideologies, nationalist dreams, and personal affinities and hatreds.

Jonathan Colman’s The Cuban Missile Crisis: Origins, Course and Aftermath (Oxford University Press, 256 pp., $31.96) promises a definitive history of the Crisis, based on new primary sources and wide-ranging historical research and analysis. In the light of recent developments in U.S.-Cuban relations, Colman’s work arrives at the ideal time for readers and students seeking to understand the tumultuous Cold War and post-Cold War history that casts a long shadow over that relationship and still threatens the hope of so many Americans and Cubans for a brighter future.

Cruz Miguel Ortiz Cuadra’s Eating Puerto Rico: A History of Food, Culture, and Identity (University of North Carolina Press, 408 pp., $27.95) is a classic of Puerto Rican culinary literature. It’s a virtual tour of Puerto Rican history that jumps from one essential food item to another, essentially combining them like ingredients into a complete and savory cultural meal. The framework also enables him to anchor his larger analysis of change over time, specifically how U.S. control of the island transformed how Puerto Ricans gathered, processed, and related to those foods, and what that means to Puerto Rican identity, citizenry, racial status, and economics.

For May 2017
Paulo Drinot’s and Carlos Aguirre’s The Peculiar Revolution: Rethinking the Peruvian Experiment Under Military Rule (University of Texas Press, no other information available) should be an extraordinary analysis of an extraordinary time in Cold War-era Peru. More information to come.

******

Book gems of 2016
An occasional series
Jan. 3: Antiquity, Civil War, World War II, and space
June 22: Presidents and the political world
June 29: Texas and Texas history
July 6: Latin America
July 13: Slavery and the Civil War era
July 20: World War I and II, science, culture, and literature

Dealing with the real America

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.

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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.