The Puerto Rican Image in the Mainland Mind: Education, Empire, and American Expectations for Puerto Rican Identity

Indica Mattson

Authors:  Indica Mattson

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Lillian Guerra

College:  College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Since the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the island of Puerto Rico has been under the dominion of the United States, a colonial action justified by U.S. officials under the banner of “Americanization,” or the goal of educating Puerto Ricans on democratic values and self-governance in preparation for some uncertain future form of economic and political sovereignty for the island. Education was at the core of this Americanization project, yet my research explores how the U.S. pedagogical mission in the first twenty years after the Spanish-American War was twofold. As educational practices on the island sought to transform young Puerto Ricans into patriotic sympathizers, U.S. popular culture, mass media, and imperialistic narratives simultaneously instructed a mainland American public on expectations for Puerto Rican identity and behavior. My research focuses on two windows onto the methods of empire building via ideological and pedagogical control within the early period of U.S. presence in Puerto Rico: the 1904 Harvard and Cornell Summer Schools, which instructed 540 Puerto Rican public school teachers in the English language and U.S. pedagogy, and Spanish-American War-era adventure novels, which presented a Puerto Rican setting as a fictionalized playground to an intended audience of young, white American men.

Poster Pitch

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8 Responses
  1. Erin Kirsche

    Your research was so interesting, Indica! You did a fantastic job on your poster and presentation

  2. There is a sizable Puerto Rican population in central Florida (the Orlando area). Have you considered studying the way that they are presented in the media or other aspects of Puerto Rican identity/imaging in Florida?

    1. For this project I honestly didn’t consider images of Puerto Ricans within Florida, but I think this would be a great topic for future research! It would also be interesting to track shifting demographics and switches in migration patterns to find out how/why Orlando has become the main destination for Puerto Ricans over New York City.

  3. Yian Wu

    Hi Indica! Great job!!!
    I am wondering whether you come up with the three aspects first or Puerto Rican Identity first . Those three aspects sound a lot to include in one paper but your presentation explained it so well!

    1. Thanks Yian! At first I was just interested in the children’s literature aspect of my research, but my advisor turned me onto other events like the Harvard Summer School to round out my focus.

  4. William Zelin

    This is such an important topic to study and one of great personal interest to me. Thank you for highlighting the innumerable effects that colonialism and imperialism have on affected peoples.