11 Books That Explain How Puerto Rico's History Made This Tragedy So Much Worse

by Raquel Reichard

When Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico on September 20, it ensnared the country, forcing people everywhere, even if just temporarily, to focus on the oldest paradise colony in the Caribbean. As the storm’s 155-mph winds dropped palm trees and collapsed homes, it gave sight to an arresting archipelago that had been battered by floods and mudslides as well as U.S. imperialism and exploitation. It’s visible humanitarian, debt, and climate crises grasped hearts, and its treatment by the federal government, despite the people’s U.S. citizenship — albeit second-class — confused and angered many. Over three million island-residing Puerto Ricans are still without electricity, communication, and potable water, and it is our duty to not just be outraged but also informed.

Puerto Rico has been a colony of the United States for 119 years. In 1898, the U.S. invaded and seized the island as part of the Spanish-American War. After nearly 20 years in political limbo, in 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Jones-Shafroth act, imposing an unequal citizenship on the Puerto Rican people, one where they were able to join the military, with 20,000 immediately deployed to fight in World War I, but not allowed to vote for the president or elect voting senators or representatives in the U.S. Congress. Since then, the strikes have piled up: The U.S. Navy used the island of Vieques for military training, leaving parts of the land unlivable even today; Puerto Rican women were sterilized without their informed consent and used as guinea pigs in birth control tests; and, among many other violent blows, independence movements were thwarted, with leaders imprisoned, tortured and killed.

The federal government’s substandard response to Puerto Rico, with President Donald Trump tweeting that the people “want everything to be done for them” and threatening to abandon recovery efforts, is an extension of this decades-long mistreatment. Millions of people are hungry, aid is not being distributed, more than 900 have died, a waterborne disease outbreak is on the rise, tens of thousands of people have already fled the island and outsiders are coming in to buy up abandoned land and property.

To help, education is essential, and these books, on invasion, imperialism, colonialism, exploitation, disaster capitalism, resistance and hope — most directly related to Puerto Rico — can help arm people with the information needed to better understand and support the black and brown Puerto Ricans located 1,014 miles away from our southern coast.

'Puerto Rico: What Everyone Wants To Know' by Jorge Duany

Published in February, Puerto Rico: What Everyone Need to Know? is a current text providing a succinct and digestible introduction to the history, culture, politics, and economy of Puerto Rico, starting with its Spanish colonial period to its relationship with the U.S. and finally the massive displacement that has been taking place and will continue to intensify following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Click here to buy.

'Reconsidering the Insular Cases: The Past and Future of the American Empire' edited by Gerald L. Neuman and Tomiko Brown-Nagin

In Reconsidering the Insular Cases: The Past and Future of the American Empire, editors Gerald L. Neuman and Tomiko Brown-Nagin present essays that introduce readers to the "Insular Cases," multiple opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court about the status of U.S. territories acquired in the Spanish-American War, including Puerto Rico. Writers reconsider the Insular Cases, looking at their history and legacy, and exploring possible solutions for the issues they helped create.

Click here to buy.

'Foreign in a Domestic Sense: Puerto Rico, American Expansion, and the Constitution' edited by Christina Duffy Burnett and Burke Marshall

This 2001 text, edited by Christina Duffy Burnett and Burke Marshall, studies U.S. imperialism, looking particularly at Puerto Rico, its largest and most populated territory. It investigates the country’s unfinished colonial experiment and legacy of racialized imperialism.

Click here to buy.

'Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico' by Laura Briggs

In Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico, author Laura Briggs looks at the role gender has played in the U.S.' colonial relationship with Puerto Rico, investigating the medicine of eugenics, including the U.S.’ contraception and sterilization tests on the women of the island, as well as sex work, motherhood, and politics.

Click here to buy.

'Military Power and Popular Protest: The U.S. Navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico' by Katherine T McAffrey

Katherine T. McCaffrey's Military Power and Popular Protest: The U.S. Navy in Vieques, Puerto Rico offers a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between the U.S. Navy and Vieques, a small island off of Puerto Rico's mainland, exploring naval hegemony, land devastation and resistance efforts.

Click here to buy.

'Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World' by José Trías Monge

In Puerto Rico: The Trials of the Oldest Colony in the World, José Trías Monge examines the current status of Puerto Rico, looking at its distressed economy, dense population and restricted political freedom, to make a case for the immediate start to the process of decolonization.

Click here to buy.

'War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America's Colony' by Nelson A Denis

In War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America's Colony, published in 2015, Nelson Denis presents an accessible text on the U.S.' suppression of Puerto Rico's political uprisings, particularly those focused on decolonization and independence.

Click here to buy.

'Oscar López Rivera: Between Torture and Resistance' edited by Luis Nieves Falcon

In this book, Boricua freedom fighter Oscar López Rivera tells the story of his struggle for the political independence of Puerto Rico, how his fight landed him behind U.S. bars and the human rights abuses made against him and other political prisoners in this country.

Click here to buy.

'Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords, 1969-1976' by Iris Morales

Through the Eyes of Rebel Women: The Young Lords, 1969-1976 published in 2016, takes a look at the Young Lords, a U.S.-based Puerto Rican nationalist group that fought against poverty, racial inequality and the colonial status of Puerto Rico. The author, former Young Lord Iris Morales, intentionally highlights the significant role and experiences of women in the group, who ensured revolutionary efforts also focused on gender equality.

Click here to buy.

'The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism'

In The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein introduces "disaster capitalism," a term used to describe the radical privatization that follows cataclysmic events. The book helps readers see and understand how the global "free market" exploits crises, much like those currently taking place in Puerto Rico.

Click here to buy.

'La Borinqueña' by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez

In 2016, Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez created La Borinqueña, a comic book about an Afro-Puerto Rican superhero whose powers, including flight and the control of storms, allows her to protect her people and animals as well as safeguard the land against supernatural threats. The comic instills hope and pride, and reminds Puerto Ricans, and others, of the beauty and power of Boricuas.

Click here to buy.