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Collection Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Perspectives

American Perceptions, Puerto Rican Realities

Between 1900 and 1930, mutual misperceptions and negative stereotypes took deep root both in Puerto Rico and in the United States. While the local Puerto Rican elite began to embrace American culture, American efforts to impose the English language in local schools met strong resistance, and the insensitivity and inconsiderateness Puerto Ricans experienced from the military and civilian authorities appointed to govern the island provoked much resentment.

For their part, American authorities sought to bring order to what was perceived as a less-developed and inferior society. Their objective was to bring "modernity" to a foreign people in a foreign land. American journalists and photographers commissioned by U.S. authorities produced graphic reports of a people incapable of ruling themselves, creating a picture of Puerto Ricans as foreign that lives still in the minds of many mainland Americans. Puerto Rico's Spanish language, its food, its Spanish traditions and paradise-like scenery reinforced American perceptions that this land and its people were exotic, foreign, and different. Such misperceptions about Puerto Rico and its people during the early 1900s are captured in works such as A Little Journey to Puerto Rico for Intermediate and Upper Grades in this online collection.

"American Calvary entering Mayaguez on the 11th of August." [Detail] A recent campaign in Puerto Rico by the Independent Regular Brigade under the command of Brig. General Schwan. General Collections, Library of Congress.

After all Puerto Ricans were granted U.S. citizenship under the Jones Act in 1917, Puerto Rican males became eligible for the American military draft in June of the same year. Puerto Rico also received non-voting representation in the U.S. Congress. A century after its affiliation with the United States, Puerto Rico remains a hybrid society, with a unique ethnic composition and cultural traditions quite distinct from mainstream American culture yet very much attuned to the "American way of life." Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age offers a portrait of the island in a pivotal era against the background of its historical and cultural past.