- Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897-1921 by Kirwin R. Shaffer
Despite the 1970s historiographical shift towards a more critical interpretation of Puerto Rican social history, anarchism still lags behind in this academic effort. Except for the biographical works on the anarchist, feminist, and Spiritist Luisa Capetillo, anarchism has been represented as a mere footnote to Puerto Rican history. Only, a recent renewed interest in the topic, triggered by the visibilization of anarchist ideas and practices in the global protest movement, opens up new academic inquiries into the relation of anarchism and the national past. Kirwin Shaffer’s Black Flag Boricuas: Anarchism, Antiauthoritarianism, and the Left in Puerto Rico, 1897-1921, contributes in significant ways because it offers new interpretations on the different manifestations of the island’s radical culture.
Shaffer’s elegant narrative eloquently brings to life a rigorous archival research not only from Puerto Rico but also from international archives in the Netherlands, Cuba, and the United Sates. Although it studies Puerto Rican anarchism, it also looks at the transnational networks in order to present a broader picture of anarchist organizing that includes the Caribbean Basin and beyond. The chapters are organized chronologically, which is helpful for those readers who might not be completely familiar with the complex history of the island at the cusp of the century.
The first three chapters broadly review the origins of anarchism in the island and serve as a historical background for the rest of the book. In the fourth chapter Shaffer looks at the networks and alliances created among anarchists, freethinkers, and Spiritists; something that had not been done before and that opens the door for further studies. In the fifth chapter Shaffer studies the cultural manifestations of the left along with their interpretation of gender and the role of revolutionary violence played in their struggles. The last two chapters focus on the “Bayamón Bloc” and their activities after 1911, year in which the State tried to repress any radical activity on the island. The manifestation of anarchism serves as a cohesive element throughout the book as Shaffer looks into the labor movement and other subaltern sectors such as the Spiritists and the Freethinkers. Black Flag Boricuas offers theoretical [End Page 259] chapters, such as the second, which talks about the radicals’ electoral politics and unionism, and the fifth chapter, which analyzes the anarchists’ construction of the theoretical elements that dictated their praxis, in order to give context to the rest of the book which focuses on more concrete manifestations such as the Centros de Estudios, newspapers, and radical groups in the lines of the “Bayamón Bloc.”
Even though Shaffer offers a well-researched study of anarchism and its multiple manifestations in the island, there are aspects that need to be revised. The name itself, Black Flag Boricuas, contains an interpretation that some will find problematic. He argues, without any reference, “Those familiar with Caribbean and especially Puerto Rican history will know that the island’s pre-Columbian inhabitants referred to themselves as Boricuas” (p. 16). Actually, according to Jalil Sued Badillo, the term has indigenous roots but was not used as an identifier. It was coined in colonial history for the first time during the 1822 expedition led by Ducoudray Hollstein to establish “The Republic of Boricua.” Boricua was, in fact, an erroneous translation of Boriquén. The meaning of Boricua does not correspond to the Taínos nor does it recall past inhabitants of the island’s past. Instead, the term was constructed in the twentieth-century Puerto Rican Diaspora in New York in order to displace the derogatory nature of the term “jíbaro” and was later adopted by people living in the island.
Apart from misleading terminology, there are problematic deficiencies in Puerto Rican historiography. For example, the author attributes the creation of the labor movement to Santiago Iglesias Pantín (pp. 19, 28-29, 37). This approach has been contested...