In general, recent ethnic studies, whether passe-partout or intrinsically scholarly attempts to open new avenues of thought and research, have seemingly taken the form of romantic chauvinist attempts to rationalize situations and conditions without regard to place, time, and circumstances. Notedly in nationalistic historical literature, and what may be construed as the naturalistic historical approach to the study of revealed events, gaps and lacunae in interpretation seem often juxtaposed to the necessities of those who must live in the present and impending future.
In a painful and sorrowful way the historical and social literature on Puerto Rico brings out the perplexing dichotomy of a minoritarian intelligentsia, along with its sympathizers who must grapple with the opposing, even negative, goals and aspirations of a majority wholly out of tune with the considered national aspirations of identity, nationhood, and common historical ends. The problem of identity and roots, as in most ethnic conditions, appears paramount to an understanding of contemporary Puerto Ricans—both in the island and the mainland U. S. A.
The works here cited represent an across-the-board formation of identities vis-à-vis heroes, ideas, sentimental sympathy, and what may be labelled grounded objective scholarship.
Firstly, one can dismiss Jay Nelson Tuck’s Spanish rendition of his Héroes de Puerto Rico as a grade school curiosity. Biographical sketches of eminent Puerto Ricans have been ably scored in numerous works that have greater appeal to specialists. At most the sketches provided could be used as a form of simple introduction into the contributions of the island’s leading historical personalities.
Libertad y crítica, by Iris M. Zavala with Rafael Rodríguez, is a useful volume that presents a collection of polemic writings by key Puerto Rican political activists, past and present. It serves as a nationalist counterpoint to the various selections of readings that have recently appeared on the nature of Puerto Rico’s political development. To provide a setting for the excerpts, the editors develop the theme of the essay in Hispanic-America as the traditional tool for protest and social change. They briefly outline the Puerto Rican political movement in the early nineteenth century, as it engendered the forces of assimilation and independence under Spanish rule, and they carry through the all-consuming centrifugal political forces of the period into the the twentieth-century American domination. Simply stated, the sentiment for independence in our times has changed little in quality since its inception in the nineteenth century. Though the actors and scenery change, the kinetic force of independence continues. This book can be characterized as an entertaining Baedeker of political vignettes, in a context of acid and biting polemics that amuse both for style and originality of thought.
On the other hand, Stan Steiner’s The Islands defies comparison with anything yet assayed on the “Puerto Rican Question.” Stylistically it is a book that can carry the reader through for the holidays. On merits of scholarship, however, it lacks the critical stamina of works that attempt a comprehensive analysis of a people’s way of life. Steiner is at his best when drawing analogies that seem more wishful thinking than the actual reality. The result is a personalized explanation of Puerto Ricans, at once embarassingly flattering and sympathetic.
Puerto Rican Authors by Marnesba D. Hill and Harold B. Schleifer and Esperanza by Carlos Buitrago Ortiz, represent contributions of a different order. The first is a bilingual biobibliography of leading writers since the conquest. Each, as the title indicates, is scrupulously biographed with major and minor contributions recorded. The format of the book is both topical and cross-reference. As a reference tool it should prove indispensable for those interested in Caribbean studies.
The second, Esperanza, is a specialized monograph of a peasant community. This study seeks to explore key roles in the structure of rural families in Puerto Rico. The author’s theoretical orientation comes from the works of British sociologists who have done extensive research in the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean. His basic premise and conclusions, nevertheless, are not particularly new. The key role in rural family structures lies in the ascribed traditional values of machismo, one where “maleness is seen as a complex of social roles which acquires meaning in relation to other roles within the family and in some instances in the systems and sub-systems outside.” This monograph should be of interest especially to those interested in Latin American rural power structures, as it provides a sound presentation of statistical data and field research analysis.