Ramón E. Soto-Crespo


On his book Mainland Passage: The Cultural Anomaly of Puerto Rico

Cover Interview of September 13, 2009

The wide angle

Mainland Passage identifies a neglected historical tradition of Puerto Rican writing, exemplified by Antonio Fernós Isern, Luis Muñoz Marín, Luis Muñoz Rivera, and Antonio S. Pedreira, that theorizes political belonging outside the dominant nation-state ideology.

For decades their thinking was regarded as incomprehensible.  After the rise of Third World decolonization movements, it was relegated to the archives of politically abstract discourses understood as complicit of colonialism.  This perception started to change in the late 1990s, when Puerto Rican scholars began questioning conventional theories of nationalism.

A groundbreaking moment came with the publication of Chicana writer Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), which legitimized the study of those spaces created in between conventional forms, that is, borderlands.  Anzaldúa’s manifesto argued that anomalous political and cultural constructs should be understood in their own terms.

By adopting Anzaldúa’s theory as a lens to look at Puerto Rican writing, I was able to detect particularities of the Puerto Rican condition that have remained obscure when viewed through the national lens.  Not only did previously rejected writings become more legible, but also a decades-old pattern of thinking started to emerge.  There was a specific borderland style of thought particular to the Caribbean region, which found expression in Puerto Rican writing.

I discovered that this specific borderland thinking became institutionalized as the political philosophy behind the 1951 Puerto Rican Constitution, decades before Anzaldúa’s writing.  At the same time, it became clear that affirming a political anomaly would be exceptionally difficult in the heyday of worldwide nation-state dominance.

Ever since the 1950s, the Puerto Rican borderland state has struggled to be understood in its own terms and has struggled against international and domestic forces that want it to be “normal” (i.e., a sovereign nation-state).  Most of the scholarship on Puerto Rico and on the Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S. shares this normalizing perspective.

In this context, Mainland Passage articulates a contrarian perspective.  The book affirms Puerto Rico’s cultural and political anomaly as its most significant contribution to global diversity.  I argue that this particular political anomaly has defied the regimes that have attempted to normalize it needs to be understood in its own right.