Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Colonizing citizens: Housing Puerto Ricans, 1917–1952
by Tyrrell, Marygrace, Ph.D., Northwestern University, 2009, 396; 3355744
Abstract (Summary)

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Puerto Ricans became United States citizens while also living in a colony of the United States. That ambiguity set Puerto Ricans up for decades of negotiation and contestation with the United States government. The discussion of politics in Puerto Rico often centers on its status, whether it should become a state, be independent, or remain a commonwealth. Few of these discussions, however, consider how ordinary poor and working-class Puerto Ricans contributed to the making of what I argue to be a “hybrid nation.” This dissertation is about how ordinary people, even those living under the most oppressed circumstances, influenced national-level policies. An examination of the local and the ordinary uncovers the quotidian spaces that citizens often worked the hardest to preserve—their homes. Their homes, their neighborhood, and their city formed the building blocks of what would become their nation.

I found that where poor and working-class Puerto Ricans lived, whether a shantytown or a housing project, a suburban housing tract or New York City, helped to define their relationship with the local and federal government, thereby indicating their degree of involvement and participation in society as citizens or subjects. I conclude that while the granting of citizenship to Puerto Ricans had few immediate consequences in 1917, the greater self-government that Congress did afford them at that time spawned progressive legislation that tried to improve the social conditions on the island. As much as the Puerto Rican government tried, however, it could not overcome centuries of colonialism without federal assistance. By the 1930s, the federal government inserted itself into the lives of many Puerto Ricans through a variety of aid programs. By the 1940s, the dependence of many Puerto Ricans on the government had cemented, ensuring the continuance of this hybrid, non-sovereign state. Once many Puerto Ricans left the island for New York City, they exchanged one second-class citizenship for another that proved to be even more difficult to overcome. There public housing projects shut them out of the greater community of which they were a part.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Binford, Henry C.
Commitee: Barton, Josef J., Fischer, Brodwyn M.
School: Northwestern University
Department: History
School Location: United States -- Illinois
Source: DAI-A 70/05, Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Latin American history, American history
Keywords: Caribbean, Citizenship, Housing, Puerto Rico, United States, Urbanization
Publication Number: 3355744
ISBN: 9781109150612
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