Puerto Rico's most prominent historian, Fernando Picó, sets a simple goal in his last work: recovering the voices of the people of Santurce, San Juan's most populous borough, during the transformative period of 1930–50. To recover those voices, Picó explores the police logbooks, decennial censuses, and local newspapers. He warns us that his work may seem descriptive. Yet the descriptions are so detailed and his interpretations so deep that he ends up offering a very nuanced analysis of societal formation in Santurce.

Picó argues that the poor and working classes of Santurce and those inhabiting an underworld existing in plain sight created a “social order based on equal opportunity,” which existed thanks to the popular sectors' ingenuity, as exemplified by ambulant commerce and the spontaneous emergence of new neighborhoods (p. 10). This world would come into conflict with legislators' and technocrats' bureaucratizing...

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