Puerto Rico is "anomalous" within Latin America and the Caribbean because it remains an "unincorporated territory" of the United States. In 1952, the island became a U.S. Commonwealth (or Estado Libre Asociado, in Spanish), with some political and cultural autonomy. In this book, Ramón E. Soto-Crespo argues that Commonwealth status created a "borderland state," whose influence extends to the continental United States through the "mainland passage," the massive Puerto Rican exodus after World War II. The author rejects standard nationalist views of the island's current political status and proposes that it represents a viable alternative to independence or annexation to the American union. [End Page 421]
The centerpiece of Soto-Crespo's case is his reinterpretation of Luis Muñoz Marín as a "radical theorist of the borderland" (p. xix). First as Senate President (1941-1948) and then as Governor of Puerto Rico (1949-1964), Muñoz Marín led a populist movement that promoted economic development through industrialization and political autonomy through "free association" with the United States. For its supporters, the Commonwealth government allowed Puerto Ricans to resist assimilation by U.S. culture while preserving their attachment to a federated state. According to Soto-Crespo, Muñoz Marín displayed a "border logic" to decolonize the island without creating a nation-state.
The book is based on close readings of literary and political classics, including Muñoz Marín's 1959 Godkin Lectures at Harvard University; René Marqués's controversial analysis of Puerto Rican "docility"; Edgardo Rodríguez Juliá's contemporary novels and chronicles; Esmeralda Santiago's memoir, When I Was Puerto Rican (1994); Arcadio Díaz-Quiñones' collection of essays, El arte de bregar (2000); and several exemplars of Nuyorican poetry, such as Pedro Pietri, Miguel Algarín, and Tato Laviera. Even more intriguing is Soto-Crespo's opening commentary on Puerto Rican painters José Campeche and Francisco Oller. The author's deconstruction of these texts and images is insightful, but often tangential to his main thesis about the cultural anomaly of Puerto Rico as a borderland state or the diaspora as a mainland passage. I sensed an underlying disjuncture between Soto-Crespo's ambitious theoretical framework and his criticism of specific works.
Nonetheless, the book poses key questions about Puerto Rican cultural politics. To begin, how unusual is the distinction between cultural and political nationalism? I would argue that it is widespread in Quebec, Catalonia, Galicia, Gibraltar, Scotland, Corsica, the French and Dutch Antilles, and other dependent territories. Second, how has the "mainland passage" reconfigured territorially and linguistically grounded definitions of national identity? Although the diaspora has undermined the traditional premises of the dominant nationalist discourse, crossing the border between the island and the mainland has not erased it altogether. Third, should U.S.-Puerto Rican relations be characterized as colonial, postcolonial, or even postnational? Many will raise their eyebrows when reading that Commonwealth and migration have established "a postnational Puerto Ricanhood as a new form of cultural, political, and geographic association" (p. 76). Finally, should Puerto Ricans in the United States be understood as an ethnic and racialized group or as colonial immigrants? Soto-Crespo's answer is that diasporic "Puerto Ricans have started to conceive of themselves as an ethnic minority" (p. 130). But that statement begs the question of sorting out the differences among ethnic, racial, colonial, and national forms of identification.
In sum, Mainland Passage is a provocative intervention into some of the most intractable problems in Puerto Rican studies. It productively elaborates ideas from cultural and postcolonial theorists, especially Gloria Anzaldúa and Walter Mignolo. It pushes the limits of recent debates about Puerto Rico as a colonial nation and the diaspora as an exceptional case within Latinos in the United States. It applies the term "borderland state" to Commonwealth as a nonnational form of government that "has transformed a colonial relationship into an anomalous federalist relationship" (p. xx). Even if one does not sympathize [End Page 422] with its fierce apology of estadolibrista ideology, the book is worth reading for its fresh approach to old buzzwords such as colonialism, nationalism, decolonization, sovereignty, autonomy, assimilation, and identity.
Río Piedras, Puerto Rico