“American” state of exception : reimagining the Puerto Rican colony and the nationalist enemy under United States rule, 1900-1940

Jimenez, Monica Alexandra
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This dissertation reexamines the first forty years of the United States’ dominion over the island of Puerto Rico through the lens of the state of exception in order to analyze the role of race, nationalism and violence in the formation of the Puerto Rican nation. Focusing on the period before the creation of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the project first engages in a legal historical analysis in order to understand how U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning race, citizenship and the application of the U.S. Constitution served to create a state of exception on the island. These early pronouncements, known as the Insular Cases, were steeped in white supremacist and social Darwinian ideas about race and civic readiness. Through these decisions the Court left the island in an uncertain position in which certain natural, unspecified rights were granted to its inhabitants but the protections of the U.S. Constitution were not. This exclusion from the established legal order opened up a space for the proliferation of violence. The second part of the project turns to an examination of the workings of violence and the rise of nationalism in response to U.S. policies. I argue that the state of exception led to both the growth of nationalism on the island and to its violent suppression. Though much has been written with respect to the colonial status of the island and its legal uncertainty during the first half of the twentieth century, a reexamination of this history using the state of exception helps further our understandings of the role of race and violence in that dynamic. Finally, this discussion also deepens our understanding of contemporary U.S. states of exception created in pursuit of both global markets and the purported “War on Terror.”