Contested Space: The Enduring Legacy of Colonialism in Puerto Rico

This section guides a conversation to understand the history and enduring legacies of colonialism in Puerto Rico, the oldest colony in the world. The consequences of policies such as the Jones Act of 1917, Balzac, and Operation Bootstrap are directly tied to contemporary conversations on the status of Puerto Rico. We consider the centrality of race and gender to conversations on how colonialism comes to impact and function in the daily lives of both islanders and the diaspora. The social, political, and economic challenges faced by the island today--from La Promesa, Hurricane Maria, and the mobilizing to oust the Governor in 2019--are deeply connected to this history.



Guiding Questions

  • History of colonization
  • Current debate on status
  • National identity & race
  • Diaspora by design
  • How do we understand or read U.S. territories/Puerto Rico in relationship to power/colonialism? 
  • How was this relationship established?
  • How has it evolved?

Scholarly Engagements

Contemporary Issues

Beginning Conversations

CNNpolitics. (2020, October 3).Trump visiting Puerto Rico during Hurricane Maria relief efforts [Video]. CNNpolitics.
Perlmutter, L. (2020, December 8). Deadly violence against women in Puerto Rico surging during lockdown. VICE World News.
Antadze, N. (2018). The politics of apathy: Trumping the ethical imperative of climate change. Ethics, Policy & Environment, 21(1), 45-47.

Bonilla, Y. (2020). The coloniality of disaster: Race, empire, and the temporal logics of emergency in Puerto Rico, USA. Political Geography, 78, 102181.

Hurricane Maria

Bonilla, Y., Brusi, R., & Ora Bannan, N.L. (2018, March 21). 6 months after Maria, Puerto Ricans face a new threat—education reform. The Nation.
Yamaguchi, A. (Producer), & Herbert, T. S. (2018). Puerto Rico: The exodus after Hurricane Maria [Motion picture]. United States: CBS News.

Young, R. (Producer). (2018). Blackout in Puerto Rico [Motion picture]. United States: PBS.


Klein, N. (2018, April 7). The battle for paradise [Video]. Youtube.

Hayes, C. (Host). (2018, July 19). Tracing the origins of the Puerto Rico disaster with Naomi Klein. Why is This Happening [Audio podcast].
Contreras, F. (2019, July 17). Residente, Bad Bunny And iLe share Puerto Rico protest song 'Afilando Los Cuchillos'. NPR.


Bonilla, Y. (2019, August 2). Meet the women who toppled Puerto Rico’s governor. MTV.
Koffler, P. (Producer), Vachon, C. (Producer), Santini, A. (Director), & Sickles, D. (Director). (2014). Mala Mala [Motion picture]. Puerto Rico: Strand Releasing.

Environmental Justice

Lloréns, H. (2020, February 25). Puerto Rico’s coal-ash material publics and the summer 2019 Boricua uprising. Society and Space.
García-López, G. (2020, February 25). Environmental justice movements in Puerto Rico: Life-and-death struggles and decolonizing horizons. Society and Space.
Zambrana, R. (2020, February 25). Black feminist tactics: On La Colectiva Feminista en Construcción’s politics without guarantees. Society and Space.

Recent Statehood Efforts

Campbell, A. F. (2019, October 30). Puerto Rico just introduced a statehood bill in Congress. Vox.

The Jones Act

Yglesias, M. (2017, October 9). The Jones Act, the obscure 1920 shipping regulation strangling Puerto Rico, explained. Vox. 

National Identity, Race & Anti-Blackness

Alford, N. S. (2020, February 9). Why some black Puerto Ricans choose ‘white’ on the Census. New York Times.
Abadía-Rexach, B. I. (2020, February 25). Summer 2019: The great racialized Puerto Rican family protesting in the street fearlessly. Society and Space.
Abadía-Rexach, B. I. (2020, February 26). Verano 2019: La gran familia puertorriqueña racializada protestando en la calle sin miedo. Society and Space.

The Historical Roots of the Colonial Project

Directed Readings

Immerwahr, D. (2019). Fortress America. In How to hide an empire: A history of the greater United States (pp. 154-214). Random House. 

LeBrón, M. (2017). Puerto Rico and the colonial circuits of policing: How reconsidering the history of policing in Puerto Rico complicates our understandings of the island's colonial relationship with the United States. NACLA Report on the Americas, 49(3), 328-334

Saoco,  C. (2016, May 31). La Operación/The Operation [Video]. YouTube.

Saoco, C. (2016, May 31). Operation Bootstrap/Operación Manos a la obra, 1983  [Video]. Youtube.

Ayala, C. J. (2001). From sugar plantations to military bases: the US navy's expropriations in vieques, Puerto Rico, 1940-45. Centro Journal, 13(1), 23-43.

Deeper Dives

Klein, N. (2018). The battle for paradise: Puerto Rico takes on the disaster capitalists. Haymarket Books.
Morales, E. (2019). Fantasy island: Colonialism, exploitation, and the betrayal of Puerto Rico. Hachette UK.
Denis, N. (n.d.). Historical overview. War Against all Puerto Ricans.
Aviles, G. (2018, May 30). Reopening `War against all Puerto Ricans' in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Medill Reports Chicago.
Negrón-Muntaner, F. (2007). None of the above: Puerto Ricans in the global era. Palgrave Macmillan. 

Diaspora by Design

Center for Puerto Rican Studies-Centro. (2020, January 16). Puerto Rico Puerto Ricans diaspora summit II: Models for diaspora [Video]. YouTube. 

Table of Contents

Section 1

Honoring Place: Understanding Place, Space & Displacement


Section 2

Colonialism, Settler Colonialism, and Soveriegnty: Reflecting on their Role in Higher Education


Section 4

The Puerto Rican Higher Education System in an Era of Resistance/Refusal and Turmoil