Asynchronous Assignment on A Brief History of US Colonialism in Puerto Rico (Pages 36-48)



In the comment section down below, write a 225-word response based on ONE of the following prompts (due on 2/17 before class):


Thinking about the Ponce Massacre of 1937, the imprisonment of nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, the  “Gag Law” (La Mordaza), and the response to the insurrection of October 1950, discuss the repercussions of the clashes between the Puerto Rican government and the Nationalist Party.


How the mass sterilization campaign and Operation Bootstrap (Manos a la obra) raised concerns about a possible population control agenda in Puerto Rico? Discuss the intersections between Puerto Rican migrants and African Americans in the northeast?


Regarding the creation of the Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) analyze the following quote:

“[Luis Muñoz Marín] worked with the Truman administration to create a meaningless new status for Puerto Rico that would change nothing regarding the US Constitution’s “Territorial Clause,” through which Congress would continue to have complete authority over territories.”

Why Morales considers the Commonwealth (ELA) a fantasy?

18 thoughts on “Asynchronous Assignment on A Brief History of US Colonialism in Puerto Rico (Pages 36-48)”

  1. “Fantasy Island”
    Concerns about a Possible Population Control Agenda in Puerto Rico as a Result of Mass Sterilization Campaign and Operation Bootstrap
    In 1937, the American eugenicist Clarence Gamble (of Proctor and Gamble fame) and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger introduced a sterilization statute. As an example of the United States “trying to invade the very insides of nationality.” Albizu Campos saw the increased availability of birth control and the often-forced sterilization of women. The legislation created a eugenics board, and scholar Laura Briggs argues that the Eugenics Board did not order most. At the same time, there were many involuntary sterilizations of women in Puerto Rico. The origins of mass sterilization in Puerto Rico can be found in Thomas Malthus’s sayings about overpopulation and the poor.
    Ana Marfa Garcfa, a Puerto Rican filmmaker, shows signs that women are being directed towards being used as guinea pigs for previously untested birth control pills. There is substantial evidence of verifiable sterilization campaigns in California against African American and Mexican women that passed eugenics-friendly A sexualization Acts in the early twentieth century, followed by North Carolina and Virginia. To build a radical narrative that the Sanger and Gamble movement was genocidal, knowledge of this policy may have intersected with Catholicism in Puerto Rico and the Latin American administration’s patriarchal essence. “As efforts to “erase” Puerto Ricans, nationalist Puerto Rican groups as well as the US-based Young Lords Party helped build the movement to oppose sterilization practices. The evidence of the exploitation of Puerto Rican women shows the unusually high sterilization rates and the fact that many of the birth control pills did not pass FDA checks.
    Intersections and Tensions Between Puerto Rican Migrants and African Americans in the Northeast
    For Puerto Ricans, the Great Migration to the North closely paralleled that of African Americans, when Puerto Ricans came to live in large urban centers in the North just a few years after African Americans started their migration to avoid Jim Crow laws, neighbors in the same segregated areas became Puerto Ricans and African Americans. Since many, if not most, of the Puerto Ricans forced to migrate northward were darker-skinned and not part of the white elite of the island, there was some cultural overlap between the two groups: they encountered similar types of racial prejudice, lived in the same or adjacent communities, and started to influence the culture of each other.

  2. Option 2
    In 1937, a sterilization law went into effect. This was supported by Clarence Gamble and Margaret Sanger who were both American. Once this law went into effect, birth control was widely available. There were also times that women had a coerced sterilization and because of this, many Puerto Ricans believed that this was an attempt of the United States to gain control and invade the country. When Margaret Sanger created Planned parenthood, she intended to support women’s birth control but whilst doing this, she created a division that included race and class status. On one side you had privileged white women who has the option to take birth control because they could have options. On the other hand, you had people of color, mostly Hispanics and African Americans who were encouraged and almost forced to take it. They wanted to gain control of the population of people of color whilst allowing the population of white people to choose its own decisions. Puerto Ricans believed that the same exact thing was happening to them. They believed that the U.S. were also trying to gain control of their population. Puerto Ricans and African Americans went through similar situations at this time and a lot of members from each group fought to condemn sterilizations and the actions that were taking place. The U.S. government were the enemies to both of them and with this, both groups experienced racism, discrimination and disrespect.

  3. Around 1937, a sterilization law was favored American eugenicist Clarence Gamble and Plan Parenthood founder, Margaret Sanger went into effect. This meant birth control was available and became an interest for many women. However, race and nationality played such a major role with the availability of birth control. For Puerto Rican women, there were many involuntary sterilizations. Sanger believed in support for women’s birth control, however, she created a racial and class divide between privileged white women. For poorer and nonwhite women, they were encouraged to use it. As for the white and privileged women, they had options. The reasons for this being Puerto Ricans invading America and taking away nationality. There was such a high exploitation of Puerto Rican women.
    Puerto Ricans who migrated to the North was similar of African Americans. African Americans began their migration to escape from Jim Crow laws. Many Puerto Ricans and African Americans lived in similar areas that were segregated. Puerto Ricans were forced to flee northward were dark skinned and not part of “white-ish elite”. Due to both African Americans and Puerto Ricans crossovers, racial discrimination was noticeable. However, cultural infusion became somethings. For example, Cuban American music such as bugalu fused African American jazz. Due to this, Puerto Ricans allowed them to build culture with American blacks. Afro-Cuban music mixed with R&B was promoted by Puerto Rican groups.

  4. Option 3

    Contrary to Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos, Luis Muñoz Marín snatched from the United States government’s hand the opportunity to become the first native governor of Puerto Rico. Even though he advocated for the independence of Puerto Rico in his early days as a politician, Muñoz Marín betrayed the people of Puerto Rico and the cause for independence by sitting down with the North Americans and help them become the masters of an island in shackles. Orchestrated by the U.S. government and Luis Muñoz Marín, the “Commonwealth” was created to make the people of Puerto Rico believe that the island formally proclaimed a Constitution of local self-government while being a “state freely associated” (Estado Libre Asociado) with the North Americans. As Ed Morales points out in his book Fantasy Island, Muñoz Marín “worked with the Truman administration to create a meaningless new status for Puerto Rico that would change nothing regarding the US Constitution Territorial Clause…” This “Commonwealth” creation was just a Constitutional excuse to silence the pro-independence movement of Puerto Rico’s nationalists, satisfy decolonization requirements imposed by the United Nations while taking advantage of the island’s economy; most importantly, to “assured that the island would remain a US colony indefinitely.” Moreover, the 1952’s “Commonwealth” label was a cover up to deflect the true status situation of the island. It was also used to deflect criticism by other countries which accused the United States of being a colonial power during the Cold War. Puerto Rico’s legal form of government is neither a “Commonwealth” nor a “Free Associated State.” The island is an unincorporated territory that was invaded by the U.S. Armed Forces on July 25th, 1898, in other words, Puerto Rico is a colony in possession by the United States and the “Commonwealth” status did not change its condition. In the end, the use of the word “Commonwealth” is just a label to dismiss and hide the true problem of colonialism and imperialism in Puerto Rico as well as a reminder that the island would never be freed from the shackles.

  5. Option 2

    In Puerto Rico, the mass sterilization campaign and Operation Bootstrap were two strategies used by the US in order to control the population on the island. The US did not want an increasing population of Puerto Ricans, and wanted to continuously profit off of the island and its resources. In the year 1937 began the campaign of mass sterilization, in which it was suggested for women to get sterilized, and that it was not okay to have large families. It was pushed upon women so heavily it became to be known as a trend, despite the fact that most women were unaware of what the operation truly consisted of and the consequences. In addition to sterilization, birth control pills were introduced on the island, despite the lack of testing and knowledge of effects these pills could have. The lack of concern shown by the government in regards to how sterilization and birth control pills could affect the women of Puerto Rico displays the way it wanted to control the Puerto Rican population. In addition to this, in the 1950’s, Operation Bootstrap began, which was a plan that came with the creation of the commonwealth of Puerto Rico. It was a plan to turn the island’s agricultural economy into an industrial economy and to bring in American industries. It also included a wave of Migration, where Puerto Rican workers came to live in America, more specifically, urban areas in the North such as New York and Boston. These strategies allowed for the U.S to continue profiting off of the island, while not having to deal with “landless and unemployed peasants” (Morales 48). These strategies, more particularly the migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States, were very similar to what occurred with African Americans in the US. These two groups of people faced similar racial discrimination and lived in the same communities, exchanging pieces of heir culture. Yet at the same time, the experience of Puerto Ricans differed as they were able to go to and from the U.S as they pleased, rather than being brought by force.

  6. The mass sterilization campaign and Operation Bootstrap raised concerns about population control in Puerto Rico as an invasive form of interference with Puerto Ricans and the United States. By introducing the mass sterilization campaign in 1937, it essentially cemented the ideology that the United States was attempting to negatively impact the nationality of those living on the island. Margaret Sanger supported this movement in many people’s eyes to further the division of classes. Women were coerced into taking untested drugs that had not passed FDA tests which can be seen as a method of abuse. They were in essence subjected to cruel and unusual punishment in order to test certain drugs and their efficacy without any type of safety standard in place. The United States argument was that it would improve the living condition as it would reduce poverty, yet they failed to understand that the only reason that there was poverty was because they had driven people away from industries that would support the island.
    In regards to the intersections between Puerto Rican migrants and African Americans in the northeast, there can be different parallels that can be seen. In one sense, African Americans in the United States were also subjected to sterilizations campaigns. But also the awareness of such actions taken against minorities can also be seen as having pushed an agenda that it was not what the government made it seem, as they were forcibly controlling the population, akin to a genocide.

  7. Option 2

    In 1937 there was a sterilization law that was being brought to people attention. This law was favored by Clarence Gamble and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger. Clarence Gamble was an American eugenicist meaning that he practiced this idea of improving human species with specific desirable hereditary traits. During this time, Albizu Campos had began to see the increase of birth control and sterilization of women. However, during this time period birth controls were not FDA approved yet which emphasized the abuse that they were having on Puerto Rican women. Margaret Sanger favored the sterilization law which led her to use the eugenics movement as a chance to support the birth controls and create a racial and class division between white women and the poor nonwhite women. In 1982 there was a documentation by Ana Maria Garcia called La Operacion which brought attention and evidence towards the fact that women being used as guinea pigs to test out birth control pills. However, there was a documentation that demonstrated to be true about the sterilization campaigns and the affect it has had on African Americans and Mexicans. In California, the campaign was against African American and Mexican woman and they were victims of the sterilization. The Asexualization Act was passed in the early twentieth century where they forced African Americans and Mexicans to sterilize against their will. This sterilization act was used to erase Puerto Ricans. This sterilization campaign and Operation Bootstrap has brought attention to Puerto Rico population being controlled because not only was it favored by people who thought that they could improve humans with specific hereditary traits which they thought it was white people. They had forced multiple women to get this sterilization knowing that it meant they can’t no longer have children which was a way of trying to erase Puerto Ricans but control the overpopulation happening.

  8. Option 2:

    This chapter examines U.S. intervention in the lives of Puerto Ricans to suggest that it has gone beyond a political aspect but embedded itself in the bodies of Puerto Rican women. A 1937 sterilization law was introduced by American’s in an effort to provide women with birth control. The topic quickly gained interest as unethical practices of coercion were brought to light. The book refers to a linkage between these PR migrants and African American in California who underwent the eugenics-friendly asexualization Act which essentially allowed the state to sterilize people even without their consent. A seemingly good act of allowing women the option of deciding whether or not to become pregnant. However, the seemingly good act soon became questionable based on the intent, was the U.S. intervention a support for Puerto Rican women or a means of controlling the birth rate or Puerto Ricans. In addition, the suspicion rose in questioning the sterilization of the group without consent. The reading suggests that poor or non-white women were being encouraged to use the birth control. This could be a tactic by the American government to control the birth rate in low-income communities which in turn is assumed to lower the poverty rate. Although I understand how this could be interpreted as a genocidal plot, I don’t agree that the government was trying to wipe out a group of people. The same action has been done around the world and China’s one child rule serves as a great example of this. Allowing women in lower income communities the ability to benefit from birth control has a positive influence on that family’s ability to provide for the house. Less children could make it easier for parents to afford a better living. However, consent is key and the government has overstepped if they begin to sterilize people against their will.

    1. Indeed the question of consent is very important when analyzing this topic as well as the disinformation or lack of discussion regarding the long-term repercussions of sterilization. For instance, the documentary La operación shows many Puerto Rican women who consented but didn’t know that the procedure was irreversible. Many factories also created the impression that to keep the job they needed to get sterilized.

  9. Option 2

    Operation Bootstrap and the mass sterilization campaign was tyrannical and destructive to the island and its people. The operation enabled the corporate takeover of the island by the US, and thus ended the thriving agricultural presence. Additionally, it encouraged many Puerto Ricans to leave for the states, which resulted in 500,000 people emigrating to the US. Thousands of farmers on the island were forced into factory work to support their families. The sterilization campaign launched in 1937 deceivingly led to thousands of women on the island being sterilized without their consent, only being informed that these medical procedures were mandatory and to “better their health”. These sterilizations became even more common when they were intertwined with the industrial work life of women, where they were required to undergo procedures so they were permitted to keep working. The population of native Puerto Ricans was desecrated exponentially, with over one third of the island being sterilized (the most sterilized place in the world at the time). African American women in the northeast faced similar abuses, where they were sterilized unknowingly all over the US. Both groups were pushed to migrate into the north eastern states to avoid discrimination and escape poverty stricken conditions. Furthermore, both Puerto Ricans and African Americans developed revolutionary groups to fight for civil rights, social equality, humane medical practice, and police brutality. They are also responsible for the creation of modern day Hip-Hop, upholding Afro-Latino culture in the states, and philanthropic efforts for poverty stricken communities. The two groups have been intertwined in culture, the suffering of genocide and revolutionary practices since the days of the Young Lords and Black Panthers, and have thrived under the oppressive US government.

  10. Option two.

    One of the US’s intervention in Puerto Rico was a sterilization law that was favored by an American eugenicist Clarence Gamble and the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. There was an increased availability of birth control to Puerto Rican women, making it appear as favorable and heavily encouraged. There was also some instances where women were coerced into sterilization, which is a process making women unable to have children. This can be seen as the United States trying to keep control of the population of Puerto Ricans in order to keep them as the minority and as Albizu Campos said “invade the very insides of nationality” (Morales 39). This can not only be seen as an attempt to control the Puerto Rican population, but also to create a race and class divide. While white women had birth control available to them, poor minority women were essentially used as guinea pigs to test birth control pills that were previously untested. Many nationalist groups in favor of Puerto Ricans, along with the United States based “Young Lords Party” helped to try and condemn these sterilization practices that could be seen as being used to erase the Puerto Rican population as well as continue to divide individuals by class and race. Operation Bootstrap (or Manos a la Obra), could be seen as another example of a probable population control attempt, however in a different way. Operation Bootstrap was an industrialization attempt to minimize the island’s agricultural economy, and transform it into an industrial economy. This consolidation of agricultural production, eliminated many jobs as well as land for many rural residents. Living standards may have “improved”, however many Puerto Rican workers needed to migrate to urban centers such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Cleveland. At the same time, African Americans were also migrating into similar cities. There were many similarities in the experiences that Puerto Rican and African American people faced in respect to the discrimination they faced, the neighborhoods they lived in, and the culture assimilation between the two groups. Puerto Ricans related more to African American groups rather than the Latin American immigrant groups from other countries, mainly due to the already established citizenship. Despite the extreme similarities, there was still a clear difference between the two groups, which placed the Puerto Ricans who migrated directly in-between black and white.

  11. Option 3:
    Morales sees Puerto Rico as a commonwealth to be a fantasy as he understood its purpose to silence Puerto Rican nationalism. It was a solution easier to complete than freedom, by the US continuing to control Puerto Rico while claiming to “liberate”. What was also a big factor in this fantasy was that Puerto Rican people would comply with this more if they were lead by their own people, Luis Muñoz Marín. The US allowed for this “illusion of self-determination”(pg 43) and was the beginning of creating what should have been independence for the nation; however, not only was this false but continued to amplify nationalism. As the quote suggests the US continued to establish a dominance over the nation resulting in what Morales acknowledges as an insurrection. Although intended to show the UN how Puerto Rico disliked this commonwealth idea, it was met with violence. A forgotten tragedy is now nothing but a reminder to Puerto Ricans of their suffrage as a nation colonized by a militant country that does nothing but exploit people.

    1. As you said the process of building the commonwealth amplified the resistance and eventual armed-struggle of the nationalist party. Ironically, the Partido Popular Democrático and Luis Muñoz Marín enhanced cultural nationalism through policy and the creation of special agencies. To some extent, the discourse of the nationalist party was preserved but not its revolutionary politics.

  12. The sterilization law, supported by eugenicist Clarence Gamble and Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger, began an era of population control in Puerto Rico. Although the availability of birth control interested many women, but it also led to many involuntary sterilizations. Despite the support for women’s birth control, Sanger developed racial divides on the islands that disadvantaged Puerto Rican women. Non-white and non-privileged women were encouraged to use birth control to prevent the growth of a non-white population while privileged white women were given options that would but their best interests forward. This was seen as an attempt by the U.S. Government to gain further control of the Puerto Rican population and grow white populations further on the island. These issues were also prevalent in the African American community, and led both Puerto Ricans and African Americans to take action against population control in the U.S.

    Puerto Rico’s status as an American Commonwealth is a fantasy, it is a limbo state where the people of Puerto Rico get taxed as American citizens yet do not have any official representation in congress. They cannot make any meaningful changes to US policy and have no vote in presidential elections. Even when the island was hit with a devastating hurricane, America could not effectively help their territory due to the Jones Act. Morales considers the status of Commonwealth for Puerto Rico to be just a way the United States can comply with UN requirements for decolonization, and to give Puerto Ricans the idea that they are preserving their native roots but still gaining benefit from being associated with the United States. The US would still benefit from sugar and coffee farms across the island, maintain political control over the island, and reap tax benefits by corporations by operating on the island. Like the reading says there are some benefits to the creation of the commonwealth and the Puerto Rican Constitution, that being it is not outdated and takes into consideration human rights. This included a ban on the death penalty, and provisions against the discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, birth, social origin or condition, political or religious belief. Rules that wouldn’t have been able to be in place if it weren’t for the UN and their involvement with the situation.

  14. Option 3

    Luis Munoz Marin’s work to establish Puerto Rico as a commonwealth of the United States was exactly what Albizu Campos and the nationalist party stood against, a push towards forced citizenship and colonial hold against the island with little benefits to the Puerto Rican people imposed upon. While US corporations had the freedom to establish franchising businesses and take advantage of the Puerto Rican islands agricultural and economic developments little of this financial growth benefited the island and much of the people were still forced to live in the poverty-stricken conditions that pushed them into migration towards the states.

    Morales’ description of the commonwealth status as a fantasy implied that it was a tactic that was used to pull the wool over the eyes of the Puerto Rican people. It was presented as a way to secure legal citizenship rights. However, those rights were a fantasy because despite its fruitful presentation, becoming the commonwealth secured Americas control over the island. This proved to be a poison apple sweetly disguised and designed to poison the chances of Puerto Rican independence from United States colonial control.

    This imposition also convinced natives to migrate from the island to the states with the hopes of better opportunity. This was a set up though and a continuance of that presented fantasy because upon arrival Puerto Ricans where still treated as second class citizens directed into low paying jobs and living racially segregated and struggling communities. Furthermore, this abandonment of the island gave United States businessmen the capacity to expand and capitalize from the unoccupied land. This helped build upon the United States economic status while continuing to neglect the needs of contributing Puerto Ricans. This is as if to say one is free to work but there will be a cap on the amount of success one is allowed. This continues to hold back the economic growth of Puerto Rican people both on the island and in the states today.

  15. Just before the 1940’s a piece of legislation rooted in Eugenics with aims to sterilize certain marginalized groups within the US & it’s territories was enacted. The legislation was largely popular due to public support from both a famous scientist working for Procter & Gamble, as well as the founding member of the organization Planned Parenthood. While this law is argued to be rooted in Eugenics, and racist in it’s nature, it did lead to the proliferation of the availability of birth control products, ushering in a new era in American sex life and Public health.

    However, as previously mentioned, the policies were inherently racist and being a member of a minority group often led to diminished access to birth control products. For instance, many Puerto Rican women seeking birth control type medical assistance were solely offered involuntary sterilizations. While the legislation was meant to further access to birth control products for women nationwide, it created a divide in quality of access along racial and economic lines that was not apparent before.

  16. OPTION 3
    “Commonwealth”, comprised of the roots common, meaning “belonging to all,” and wealth, meaning “happiness or riches,” the word commonwealth originally referred to the government of England from 1649 to 1660. Nowadays, a commonwealth has come to mean any government in which all people involved have a say, or a loose formation of nations with a shared loyalty. In short, a commonwealth should be a political community founded for the common good. In the case of Puerto Rico, this is not true, this is a fantasy. Today, only the United States benefits from its ongoing relationship with Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico receives little to no benefit from being a “commonwealth”, this is because the way Puerto Rico is perceived and treated is not actually that of a true commonwealth. The most outrages example of this is the fact that if you live on the island of Puerto Rico you are not eligible to vote for the President of the United States. However, once you move to mainland USA you become eligible. This, logically speaking, does not make sense. How is it that you are not allowed to have a say in who’s running your country’s government simply because you live on the island? This is a blatant form of oppression and furthers Morales’ thinking in that Puerto Rico being a commonwealth is a fantasy. Puerto Rico is not a commonwealth in its true definition, its in an abusive relationship with the United States.

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