Latin American Research Review 40.3 (2005) 177-190
[Access article in PDF]
The Rough Edges of Puerto Rican Identities:
Race, Gender, and Transnationalism
In what sense can Puerto Rico be considered "on the edge"? I suppose that the phrase can no longer refer to the island's geographic location in the margins of the New World, as Antonio Pedreira famously argued in his classic book Insularismo ( 1992). Nor can it mean that Puerto Rico is isolated from current international affairs, such as the war on terrorism the U.S. government is waging. Quite the contrary, Puerto Ricans have recently occupied center stage in academic and public discussions about identity, globalization, and citizenship. The success of the peace movement in Vieques illustrates better than any other single event the transnational significance of local issues in Puerto Rico. Thus, I take the phrase "on the edge" to mean that the study of Puerto Ricans on the island and in the United States has become a productive site for the analysis of the multiple intersections of critical variables, such as gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationalism, and transnationalism. My basic goal in this essay is to reflect upon these recurrent themes in the contemporary intellectual production about Puerto Ricans, without claiming to exhaust the leading concerns in our collective research agenda.
Recent studies of Puerto Rican identities on and off the island have increasingly focused on their rough "edges" (such as their subordinate racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, or diasporic locations), rather than on their hard "cores" (such as the Spanish language, the Catholic Church, the canonized literature, and other island-centered cultural practices). This trend clearly reflects the influence of post-structuralist, postmodern, postcolonial, subaltern, and cultural studies in the social sciences and the humanities, which I have reviewed elsewhere (Duany 1998a, 1998b). In the Puerto Rican case, it also articulates a growing disenchantment with the basic tenets of the nationalist discourse that long prevailed among the island's intellectual elite. Over the past decade or so, scholars have insisted on deconstructing the master narratives of the Puerto Rican nation and replacing them with more fragmentary stories about how blacks, immigrants, women, gays, lesbians, and other "marginal" subjects negotiate their places within the imaginary communities of Puerto Rico and its diaspora. In this regard, the title of Myrna García-Calderón's book (1998), Lecturas desde el fragmento (Readings from the Fragment), could well characterize a large body of literary criticism on the island. Thinking along the fringes of Puerto Ricanness helps...