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  • An Intractable Foundation:Luis Muñoz Marín and the Borderland State in Contemporary Puerto Rican Literature
  • Ramón Soto-Crespo (bio)

We are not a colony of the United States.

Luis Muñoz Marín, "On Recent Disturbances in Puerto Rico"

An elusive cultural identity lies at the heart of our unwillingness to declare ourselves either a nation or a state.

Esmeralda Santiago, "Island of Lost Causes"

On 21 April 1973, the founding patriarch of the Puerto Rican state, Luis Muñoz Marín (1898–1980), contemplated in his personal diary the idea of composing a special dictionary that would address the language of Puerto Rico's complex relation to the US. Anticipating that the publication of such a dictionary would trigger a "whirlwind of futile political polemics" (Diario 51), he discarded the idea, but not before providing examples of entries crucial to the project. The first term of concern was nation. Muñoz Marín emphasized that the nation "should not be employed by Puerto Ricans when referring to the U. S.," because when a Puerto Rican says "the nation" "he ought to be referring to Puerto Rico." However, he immediately undermined the definition just provided by stating that "I avoid frequent use of the word 'nation' when referring to Puerto Rico in order to prevent confusion with the Nationalist Party; instead I use the word 'country' " (51). But by 1973, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party was no longer in existence; it had been virtually wiped off the [End Page 712] political map in the 1940s as a result of Muñoz Marín's formation of the Puerto Rican state. The patriarch's ambivalence concerning a word that he purposely refrains from using casts doubt not only on Muñoz Marín's political oeuvre but also on the political state that he helped to create. What kind of state could this be in which the term nation triggers self-censorship? Muñoz Marín's diary provides a personal perspective on the relationship between state and nation in contemporary Puerto Rican culture, while also raising questions about statism and nationhood central to today's discourses of identity.

In this essay, I am interested in forms of the state that discourage rather than fuel nationalism. Rather than advocating for a state as the engine of national institutions (as expounded in the theories of Samuel P. Huntington and other models of institutional modernity) or a state whose role lies in supplanting nationalism (as in the case of the Soviet Union), I want to address a state-form specifically designed to undercut nationalist ideology. This state dismantles the national formation and in its place advocates a cultural community founded in political ambivalence. By curtailing the growth of modern nationalism and promoting a form of cultural belonging detached from a sovereign national body, the Puerto Rican state engages in what Walter Mignolo has identified as a "rearticulation and appropriation of a global design from the perspective of local history" (39). In other words, this essay considers the idea that there is a particular borderland state-form that actively erodes a nationalist logic while using this strategy to retain cultural distinctiveness and proliferate postnational narratives.

By examining this postnationally driven state-form in mainland Puerto Rican literature, I show the cultural implications of a political state that systematically curtails nationalism within a democratic form of governance. I clarify historical relationships between nationhood and postnational forms of state governance that animate this particular subset of American minority literature and that have their most recent appearance in Esmeralda Santiago's When I Was Puerto Rican (1993). I show that contrary to most accounts of this memoir, postnationalism is not an artificial imposition on Puerto Rican experience but is rather the pivotal, yet occluded, form of Puerto Rican state subjecthood. In making this argument, I reconsider theories of nationality and postcoloniality that continue to imagine the state as a form of nationalist praxis. To that end, I engage the theories of subalternity and nationalism expressed in postcolonial studies by Benedict Anderson, Homi Bhabha, Partha Chatterjee, and Mignolo, relating them with the theoretical praxis of Muñoz Marín—theorist, politician, and architect of a...


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