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19 | The Empire at Home: Radical Pacifism and Puerto Rico in the 1950s
The Port Huron Statement begins with the recognition of paradox. Kids who grew up believing in America’s goodness had matured into young adults who now saw “complicated and disturbing paradoxes in our surrounding America. The declaration ‘all men are created equal’ rang hollow before the facts of Negro life in the South and the big cities of the North. The proclaimed peaceful intentions of the United States contradicted its economic and military investments in the Cold War status quo.” If the authors of the Port Huron Statement named many contradictions in US democracy, they missed many others, including in their analysis of American foreign policy. They railed against the “warfare state,” denounced alliances with the “old colonialists,” and especially condemned US policy toward Cuba, but they were completely silent about the fact that America itself remained an imperial power. What scholars have called the “Puerto Rican paradox” was born at the turn of the century, when Puerto Rico was deemed an “unincorporated territory” that was “owned by” but not included within the United States. This paradox was exacerbated in the interwar years when Puerto Rican residents were accorded US citizenship but lacked rights to national representation or many of the protections of the Constitution, and it was heightened during the Cold War when the US government collaborated with Puerto Rican officials to create the impression that it was no longer a colony at all. The Port Huron Statement’s silence on Puerto Rico is testament to their success.
Nonetheless, long before youthful white radicals embraced the Young Lords Party and the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) in the late 1960s and the 1970s, there was a North American solidarity movement advocating Puerto Rico’s independence. Its adherents were radical pacifists, and many of them went on to work in pacifist organizations that were key to the creation of the New Left and antiwar movements, such as the Committee for Non-Violent Action, Liberation magazine, and the Fair Play for Cuba committee. The story of Puerto Rico’s important role in helping to make possible a more visible and more widespread North American anti-imperial solidarity movement has not yet been told. But organizing in support of Puerto Rican independence activists during the early Cold War years not only helped consolidate personal and organizational connections that sustained the antiwar movement of the sixties but also, crucially, yielded an analysis of the role of solidarity workers in anti-imperial struggles that was necessary to the emergence of that movement.
In certain ways, the emergence of 1960s anti-imperialist movements from radical pacifism was itself paradoxical, as it required those who were committed to absolute nonviolence to support the efforts of oppressed peoples who used violence to free themselves. And it was here that the Puerto Rican solidarity movement was key, for it was loosely aligned with the Nationalist Party (NP), which during the early 1950s pursued acts of “self-sacrifice and valor” to draw attention to the US occupation of the island. In 1950 NP members launched an island-wide armed uprising that led to pitched gun battles between insular police and NP supporters, the bombing by the National Guard of two mountain towns, and upward of two dozen deaths. Simultaneously, two NP members, seeking to “make a demonstration” against colonialism, attacked President Truman’s temporary residence in Washington. One of the gunmen and a presidential guard died as a result, and three other men were wounded. In 1954, four Nationalists, led by Lolita Lebrón, fired on the House of Representatives, injuring five Congressmen, a protest that was met with the imprisonment of almost all NP leaders in Puerto Rico and the continent. Their pacifist allies sought to put this violence into a broader context, arguing that it had to be compared to the structural violence of the US empire. I suggest that it was in this moment that US activists began formulating a new model of anti-imperial struggle, one that insisted that a radical peace politics could stand in solidarity with those who use violence in national liberation movements.
The Beginnings of a Solidarity Movement
The Puerto Rican paradox had long generated disquiet and discontent on the island, but the demand for independence from the United States proliferated in the desperate days of the Great Depression, when it was voiced across the political spectrum. No advocate was more outspoken than Pedro Albizu Campos, president of the NP. Arguing that Puerto Rico’s territorial status was nothing more than an illicit military occupation, he organized quasi-military local units and called for armed struggle—if necessary—against the United States. Federal authorities’ unrelenting efforts to suppress the NP, through surveillance, political persecution, and criminalization, produced even greater political turmoil. A series of violent encounters between the Nationalists and colonial officers ended in Albizu Campos’s 1937 incarceration in federal prison in Atlanta.
When US officials decided to imprison Albizu Campos on the mainland, they could not know that this would provide the spark for an organized proindependence movement in North America. In 1943 he fell ill and was transferred to a New York City hospital, where he remained until 1947, when he returned to Puerto Rico. A number of intellectuals and activists had protested his arrest and conviction, and on his arrival at Columbus Hospital, Albizu Campos became something of a celebrity. Many progressive New Yorkers sat at his bedside during these months, among them Vito Marcantonio, Pearl Buck, and Dorothy Day. Joining them were the activists who congregated around the Harlem Ashram, founded in 1940 by Jay Holmes Smith and Ralph Templin, both former Methodist missionaries who had been expelled from India for their support of the proindependence movement there.
The Ashram served as home and organizing center for a number of radical Christian peace activists. Many of its residents were affiliated with the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), an international antimilitarist organization whose members had worked since World War I in support of conscientious objectors as well as civil liberties and economic and racial justice. FOR members were early participants in the growing civil rights movement, helping to found the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and to pioneer some of the movement’s key strategies of nonviolent resistance. Because of these commitments to racial justice, the Ashram was organized as an interracial community. Among those who lived there were African Americans Pauli Murray, James Farmer, and Wilson Head, as well as white pacifists John Swomley, Ruth Reynolds, Abraham Zwickel, and Jean Wiley (later Jean Zwickel). Others, like Dave Dellinger, Bayard Rustin, and lawyer Conrad Lynn—also African American and a former member of the Communist Party—were frequent visitors. The Ashram hosted meetings of the New York branch of CORE and the March on Washington Movement. Its members worked to desegregate the YMCA; marched from New York to Washington, DC, to protest poll taxes and lynching; and established a play co-op for neighborhood children. Reflecting its founders’ earlier experiences in India, they also conducted annual “Free India Day” pickets at the British Embassy.
Living on the border between central and East Harlem, Ashram members worked within the Puerto Rican as well as the African American communities, and some of their Puerto Rican neighbors pushed residents to attend to US as well as British imperialism. In summer 1943, Ashram member Al Winslow brought Nationalist activist Julio Pinto Gandía to dinner. Both draft resisters (Gandía, in accord with an NP policy of noncooperation with the US government, refused induction in the Army), they had met in prison. Gandía urged Ashram residents to visit Albizu Campos in his New York hospital room. Jay Holmes Smith accepted the invitation, and soon after, Ashram residents decided to add the demand to “Free Puerto Rico” to their annual Free India Day demonstration. On January 26, 1944, armed with posters condemning US empire in Puerto Rico as well as British empire in India, they marched through Harlem and then took the subway to the British consulate, where about a dozen were arrested when they set up a picket line. Among them was Ashram assistant director Ruth Reynolds, to whom leadership of the action had fallen because Smith was in Washington conducting a fast for Indian independence. Reynolds’s picture made the paper, and Albizu Campos asked that she come to see him. Their meeting changed her life.
Reynolds was a young white woman who had “fallen in” with pacifists while studying in Chicago. Born in North Dakota, she had trained as a teacher but was unable to find a steady job during the depression. In any case, she was more drawn to a life of the mind, so she went off to Northwestern University, where she received a master’s degree in English. While there, she volunteered at a settlement house on Chicago’s South Side and read Gandhi. In 1941, she completed her degree and moved to the Ashram to take a “training course in total pacifism” offered by FOR. She became one of its most dedicated residents, and while there she developed an uncompromising pacifist stance, accumulated organizing experience, and built relationships with New York and national activists. Her meeting with Albizu Campos reshaped her pacifism in crucial ways. Reflecting later in life, she remembered that “within a month or so of knowing Don Pedro, I really felt that I had to commit myself to the struggle for the independence of Puerto Rico.” Many of the radicals she knew were working on behalf of the black freedom struggle, but few were aware of the plight of Puerto Ricans denied their independence. Reynolds believed that as a citizen of the United States, she bore personal responsibility for this injustice. For the next thirty years, she dedicated her life to rectifying it.
In January 1945, Reynolds helped organize the American League for Puerto Rico’s Independence (ALPRI). Its members pledged to work for federal recognition of the island’s independence, immediate amnesty for all political prisoners, and “full and speedy reparations.” The commitment to independence kept ALPRI relatively small, for some whom Reynolds approached were not convinced that granting Puerto Ricans freedom would be good for them, since it would deny them US military protection and financial aid. About fifty people joined, but active members numbered less than a dozen, and almost all were closely associated with the pacifist movement. Many of them also knew Albizu Campos and their ties to him came to shape the positions taken by the group. ALPRI members testified before Congress, monitored United Nations debates about decolonization, and lobbied President Truman. Although Jay Holmes Smith was president, Reynolds and several women close to her—particularly pacifist Thelma Mielke—did most of the work. ALPRI steadfastly rejected any proposed reforms that aimed to make US control over Puerto Rico more palatable, arguing that while these might pave the way to economic development, they also required islanders to “barter away [their] birthright of full freedom” for nothing but a “dependent independence and a dominated dominion.”
ALPRI disbanded in 1950, divided over opposition to Nationalist violence, but through the 1950s and into the 1970s, Reynolds went on to organize a number of successors that advocated independence for Puerto Rico, including Americans for Puerto Rico’s Independence and the Committee for Justice to Puerto Ricans. She also drew other groups into this campaign. Pacifists were always at the center, including some little-known women such as Mielke, nurse Yolanda Moreno (who would marry Conrad Lynn), Lula Peterson (later married to James Farmer), and Jean Zwickel, as well as men with names familiar to historians of the Old and New Lefts: Dave Dellinger, A. J. Muste, Julius Eichel, Ernest Bromley, Jim Peck, and others who were active in the “revolutionary pacifist” group Peacemakers and the War Resisters League (WRL). Their activism was guided by their recognition, as Reynolds wrote at the time, that only by admitting “individual and corporate responsibility for every act of our government—a sense of responsibility without which democracy is nothing but a lie” could American citizens “begin to free ourselves from the racial and national arrogance that is making our nation a curse in the earth.” They believed that advocating Puerto Rican independence was an act of patriotism, intended to make the United States live up to those ideals—a love of freedom and commitment to self-government—that it daily betrayed as a colonial power.
Puerto Rico, Militarism, and the Global Cold War
Ruth Reynolds helped draw pacifists’ attention to Puerto Rico, but it was the Cold War that kept it there. Puerto Rico’s status as a US possession was especially troublesome at this time, when colonialism and decolonization resided at the center of the struggle between the United States and Soviet Union for the allegiance of the global South. Puerto Rico was crucial to this struggle, as US and Puerto Rican officials collaborated to make it an exemplar of the promises offered by capitalist development to emerging nations as well as a signifier of American support for decolonization. Puerto Rico’s majority political party, the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), depended heavily on US support. PPD head Luis Muñoz Marín built his reputation on the foundation of economic development. His highly touted development plan for the island sought to manage systemic unemployment and underemployment by industrializing with the help of US government aid and corporate investment while relying on US citizenship to facilitate unimpeded migration to the continent. American authorities, on the other hand, needed to maintain control over Puerto Rico not only to help them convey the benefits of US-style development to other Latin American nations, nor simply to guard the value of substantial corporate investments on the island, but also because of its continuing and rapidly expanding strategic importance as a site for US military bases. Both the PPD and the Truman and Eisenhower administrations agreed that the colonial relationship should be maintained, then, but they also recognized that its image needed to be recast.
To these ends, they sought to portray Puerto Rico as a “showplace of democracy,” but this was no easy task. The island’s anomalous status meant that its residents—nominally citizens of both Puerto Rico and the United States—lacked many of the basic rights of self-governance. To resolve this problem, the US government implemented a series of political reforms between 1946 and 1952, all intended to provide Puerto Ricans a greater degree of home rule while leaving imperial power substantially untouched. These included appointing the first indigenous governor in 1946 and then passing an elective governor bill in 1947, followed by the inauguration of Muñoz Marín as governor the following year. In 1950, Congress passed legislation enabling Puerto Rican officials to write a constitution that island residents could ratify (although Congress also exercised its authority to change that constitution before allowing a ratification vote). The creation in 1952 of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (or Estado Libre Asociado, Associated Free State) accorded Puerto Rican officials authority over a range of domestic policies while depriving them of control over trade, defense, foreign affairs, currency, and like matters. In 1953, federal and territorial officials declared that, with these reforms, “the last vestiges of colonialism [have] disappeared in Puerto Rico.” After a rather contentious UN debate, in which Communist states and some newly independent nations argued that the United States was actually creating “a new form of colonialism,” the United Nations endorsed the position that the people of Puerto Rico were now “self-governing.”
These moves did help to consolidate both domestic and international support for US policy, but they also spurred NP members to new levels of militancy and did little to convince a core of solidarity workers that island residents were free. Indeed, if the Cold War context prompted limited reform of Puerto Rico’s status, it also contributed to intensified pacifist activism on the issue. The cause of Puerto Rico’s independence was important to pacifists precisely because it was vitally connected to their broader concerns about civil liberties, militarization, and nuclear technology. Once again, it was Ruth Reynolds—arrested and imprisoned on the island in 1950—who provided the link between the pacifists’ general political commitments and the specific case of the American empire in the Caribbean.
Reynolds had been living in Puerto Rico for several years while writing a book about government repression of a 1948 student strike. During that time she was drawn increasingly into the NP community, attending meetings and befriending its members, although she denied ever joining the organization. In the wake of the 1950 revolt, Reynolds was arrested on charges of promoting the overthrow of the Puerto Rican government, convicted under Puerto Rico’s Little Smith Act (known locally as la mordaza, the “gag rule”), and sentenced to two to six years in Puerto Rican prisons. Her imprisonment both divided and mobilized the pacifist community. Some of her erstwhile colleagues in ALPRI abandoned her for betraying pacifist principles, while others, particularly the radicals in Peacemakers and WRL, joined together to create the Ruth Reynolds Defense Committee. They organized picket lines and public meetings, arranged for Conrad Lynn to serve as her legal counsel, published accounts of her case, alerted international networks, and spoke to audiences in numerous cities on the East Coast and in the Midwest. From agitating on behalf of Reynolds, whom all of them had known through the radical pacifist movement, they moved more generally to work in solidarity with supporters of Puerto Rican independence. During her trial, for example, Ernest Bromley, Wally Nelson, and Harlem Ashram cofounder Ralph Templin traveled to San Juan to witness against US empire. They distributed a manifesto in which they apologized for North America’s “continuous violence” against the Puerto Rican people, denounced conscription and the militarization of the island, and urged “the people of both the United States and Puerto Rico to rise and, through the power to be found in non-violence, to end one of the worst imperialisms in recent history.” “Imperialism,” they proclaimed, is “the Real Violence.” Reynolds served twenty months in Puerto Rican jails before making bail and appealing her conviction, which was ultimately overturned by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court.
The central contention of Puerto Rican Nationalists had always been that the US presence in Puerto Rico amounted to nothing more than military occupation, and their opposition to conscription of Puerto Rican men during World War II and the Korean War appealed to radical pacifists. After all, members of the two groups first encountered each other in prison as draft resisters during World War II. This confluence between NP and pacifist interests only increased in the early Cold War years as Puerto Rico was militarized in new ways. During World War II, the US Navy and Army both built large installations on Puerto Rico, and between 1942 and 1950, the Navy seized three-quarters of the island of Vieques, encompassing it within an immense military complex in eastern Puerto Rico. Vieques was used for munitions storage and air-to-ground training, including live fire exercises, resulting in the displacement of much of the island’s population and severe social and economic dislocation. By the early 1950s, Ramey Air Force Base (originally Borinquen Field) had been transferred to the Strategic Air Command; it housed some of the most advanced weapons of the Cold War, including surveillance aircraft and nuclear-equipped B-36 bombers that could reach into the Soviet Union. Radical pacifists made condemning the US military occupation one of the keynotes of their solidarity work, endorsing the NP position that Puerto Rican men were subject to “conscription without representation” and denouncing militarization of the island as an “act of war against the people of Puerto Rico.”
As Puerto Rico’s military significance expanded from an outpost overlooking the Panama Canal to an important staging ground for the atomic-age Cold War, the NP placed US nuclear capacity at the center of its rhetoric. In the months before the 1950 uprising, Albizu Campos toured the island, accusing the US of making Puerto Rico its “atomic base and the base for [its] most advanced weapons. . . . Ostensibly, they are inviting the enemy to attack Puerto Rico, which has come to be the Pearl Harbor of the Atlantic.” Warning that the island was being transformed into an atomic arsenal that could be used against all of Latin America as well as other “enemies,” he railed against US officials’ “cynical” belief that “because they possess the atom bomb they can sit on the heads of all human beings. Theirs is a power which respects nothing but brute force.”
This rhetoric tallied with pacifists’ concerns about the dangers of nuclear technologies. Groups such as the WRL had opposed atomic weapons since the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After President Truman’s announcement in early 1950 that he had approved development of the hydrogen bomb, radical pacifists ramped up their protests against preparation for atomic warfare, staging fasts, holding public meetings, and conducting civil disobedience. Simultaneously, many of these same activists began speaking out against the nuclearization of Puerto Rico, endorsing Albizu Campos’s accusations that the United States had made Puerto Rico an inevitable target for atomic annihilation. And when Albizu Campos personalized these charges, accusing US officials of using atomic weapons to torture him, radical pacifists were drawn even further into the Puerto Rico solidarity movement.
During his incarceration after the 1950 uprising, Albizu Campos alleged that electronic or atomic rays were being aimed at him, causing debilitating physical injuries, including weight loss, edema, burns, and fever. Government officials insisted that he was mentally ill and his symptoms self-inflicted, but Albizu Campos countered that he was the victim of “lynching at the height of the atomic era.” His health continued to decline, and in 1953, international pressure forced Puerto Rico’s governor to release him from prison. When he returned home, his visitors told of seeing blue, silver, or rose-colored rays of light in his bedroom, and his symptoms grew worse. This news was credible to the Nationalists who surrounded him, in part because other prisoners had complained of similar incidents. During summer 1952, for example, Ruth Reynolds and NP women, incarcerated in the same jail as Albizu Campos, told authorities that they experienced electric shocks, temporary paralysis, “vibrations,” mental confusion, and “oppression.” Nationalists also knew that the US government had a history of using Puerto Rico as a scientific and medical laboratory, and this knowledge shaped their understanding of Albizu Campos’s illness. Radical pacifists may not have been cognizant of this history, but as critics of nuclear technology, they did not find such reports incomprehensible, although some of them remained somewhat skeptical.
As concerns grew about Albizu Campos’s health, pacifists and NP members worked furiously to determine if he was suffering from radiation sickness, sending a Geiger counter to San Juan and appealing to prominent scientists to investigate. In February 1954, Dave Dellinger wrote to Albert Einstein, asking for his opinion on the matter. Dellinger confessed that he had “considerable reservations” about Albizu Campos’s allegations but thought it important to find out whether such an attack was possible. He was delayed in mailing the letter, as a postscript made clear: “The violence in Congress erupted between the time I wrote this letter and the time I got it out. About all I can say is that this probably underlines the urgency of the situation. Apparently those who made the attack are amongst those who accept Albizu’s charges.” And, indeed, Lolita Lebrón sought to bring Albizu Campos’s “barbarous torture” to light when she and her compatriots fired on Congress. Their belief that their leader was being subjected to medical and possibly nuclear experimentation and might die created a context within which the most dramatic action seemed necessary.
The 1954 attack on Congress, which brought together radical pacifist concerns about military and imperial violence, atomic technology, and civil liberties, proved pivotal in the development of US solidarity movements. In its wake, federal and local authorities rounded up Puerto Rican activists in New York and Chicago and on the island, and pacifists organized the Committee for Justice to Puerto Ricans (CJPR) to help defend the dozens who were arrested, tried, and ultimately convicted. This was an exceedingly difficult task given the political context. Bemoaning the state of American civil liberties at the height of the domestic Cold War, the members of this committee worked “to prevent violation of civil rights and all efforts to deepen the atmosphere of hysteria and to extend a regime of repression” in Puerto Rico as well as the United States. Organized a decade after Harlem Ashram residents began to protest US occupation of Puerto Rico, the CJPR included (mostly) men who spanned pacifism from the 1920s to the New Left. Among them were A. J. Muste, who had joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation before the United States entered World War I; World War II–era conscientious objectors like Dellinger, Bayard Rustin, Roy Kepler, and Julius Eichel; and Norman Mailer, Waldo Frank, and Sidney Lens, all of whom would work with the Fair Play for Cuba Committee half a decade later. Some of them—Dave McReynolds and, of course, Dellinger himself—would go on to lead opposition to the war in Vietnam. Although Ruth Reynolds was specifically asked not to join because her close ties to the NP made her a controversial figure, she and her longtime comrade Thelma Mielke did much of the legwork. At the height of McCarthyism, and at a moment when popular support for the politics of the expanding national security state was still very strong, the CJPR consolidated an anti-imperial network and argument, helping to make possible the articulation of a more generalized anti-imperial critique of US policy by the end of the decade.
Still, defending those who engaged in violence posed a real dilemma for radical pacifists, and there were sometimes bitter conflicts within the movement over the decision to assert solidarity with the Nationalists. Many of these pacifists were committed internationalists, and they saw nationalism itself as divisive and archaic—a position that conflicted with the impulse toward nation building among colonized peoples that was rapidly transforming the postwar world. This was a contradiction that would have to be resolved were pacifists to play a role in postcolonial solidarity movements. Another and more fundamental contradiction resided in the willingness of radical pacifists to support those who used violence against the US government. Even if Nationalists understood their efforts as targeted attacks against their oppressors, the predominant response in the United States and abroad was that they were “terrorists” killing (or trying to kill) innocent men. Focusing on civil liberties and political repression provided some cover, allowing activists to sidestep the question of whether NP violence was justifiable. But many radical pacifists drew more broadly on antimilitarist and anti-imperialist principles, situating Nationalist violence as a response to the massive violence of US occupation. For example, the revolutionary pacifists of Peacemakers picketed the Foley Square courthouse where Lebrón and her compatriots were being sentenced. The flyer they distributed made clear that they did not “condone the use of violence by anybody” but pointed out that “the United States is . . . condemning the violence of Puerto Rican Nationalists while practicing violence herself. We believe that, instead of sending Puerto Rican patriots to prison, the American government should TAKE ITS ARMY OUT OF PUERTO RICO.” Ruth Reynolds was dismayed and infuriated by the shooting at Congress, but she did not waver in her belief that “empire is in itself the basic violence, and that to oppress with violence is worse than to resist oppression with violence.” This was a position that she defended before the grand jury investigating the shooting, a body before which she was summoned about a dozen times. Similarly, activist Julius Eichel wrote Jim Peck, “It is not sound pacifism to hate terror and war, and then close our eyes to the terror and oppression practiced by our own government against a helpless people.”
These were lessons that came hard to the pacifist movement. Eichel’s letter was written in response to an article in the WRL News in which some pacifists defended US policy toward Puerto Rico as critical to establishing democracy and prosperity on the island. Some of these disputes continued in later years. In 1958–59, for example, members of Peacemakers staged a hundred-mile Peace and Good Will Walk, from Guanica, site of the 1898 US invasion, to the American military headquarters in San Juan. Several expatriate pacifists living in Puerto Rico criticized the action because they viewed it as either too supportive of the Nationalist agenda or too critical of US policy. Such outright opposition to solidarity protests was unusual, but many pacifists struggled with the proper way to do such work. Ruth Reynolds consistently argued that pacifists should oppose US empire nonviolently but that it was wrongheaded to lecture Puerto Ricans about the appropriate methods to fight for their freedom. Others took longer to accept this position. Reynolds remembered that Dave Dellinger was “always for me” but that nonetheless it wasn’t until the Cuban Revolution that Dellinger truly understood “it’s not our duty always to go in somewhere and convert people to pacifism.” Her remark suggests that in their engagement with the Puerto Rican liberation struggle from the mid-1940s right up to the time of the Cuban Revolution, pacifists worked out their relationship to national liberation movements. Reynolds played a key role in accomplishing this reconciliation. But she is essentially absent from the historical record, often meriting not even a footnote in accounts of postwar radical pacifism.
Reynolds’s invisibility mirrors the continuing silence of US historians—not to mention politicians and pundits—on the American empire in Puerto Rico. Even as historians of the United States have sought to be more attentive to our imperial history, much interest has focused on the Philippines, safely securing US colonialism in the past. Histories of the New Left have reproduced this evasion. When Puerto Rican liberation struggles do appear in these histories—for example, with the founding of the New York branch of the Young Lords in 1969 or the underground revolutionary FALN in the early 1970s—they are often interpreted not as a harbinger of transnational solidarity but as an extension (or imitation) of Black Power, or else as an example of the end of radicalism in misguided forms of violence and even terror. Today, few Puerto Ricans support independence, but they continue to reject the imperial status quo, even as US citizens outside of Puerto Rico and its diaspora seemingly remain oblivious to the injustices and inequalities created there by US policy. Puerto Rico has always had much to tell us about the contradictions of American democracy. As we look forward to new insurgencies, it may serve us well to think again about the Puerto Rican paradox.