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Puerto Ricans in the Empire

Puerto Ricans in the Empire: Tobacco Growers and U.S. Colonialism

Teresita A. Levy
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Puerto Ricans in the Empire
    Book Description:

    Most studies of Puerto Rico's relations with the United States have focused on the sugar industry, recounting a tale of victimization and imperial abuse driven by the interests of U.S. sugar companies. But inPuerto Ricans in the Empire, Teresita A. Levy looks at a different agricultural sector, tobacco growing, and tells a story in which Puerto Ricans challenged U.S. officials and fought successfully for legislation that benefited the island.

    Levy describes how small-scale, politically involved, independent landowners grew most of the tobacco in Puerto Rico. She shows how, to gain access to political power, tobacco farmers joined local agricultural leagues and the leading farmers' association, the Asociación de Agricultores Puertorriqueños (AAP). Through their affiliation with the AAP, they successfully lobbied U.S. administrators in San Juan and Washington, participated in government-sponsored agricultural programs, solicited agricultural credit from governmental sources, and sought scientific education in a variety of public programs, all to boost their share of the tobacco-leaf market in the United States. By their own efforts, Levy argues, Puerto Ricans demanded and won inclusion in the empire, in terms that were defined not only by the colonial power, but also by the colonized.

    The relationship between Puerto Rico and the United States was undoubtedly colonial in nature, but, asPuerto Ricans in the Empireshows, it was not unilateral. It was a dynamic, elastic, and ever-changing interaction, where Puerto Ricans actively participated in the economic and political processes of a negotiated empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-7134-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. List of Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In December 1925, the editors ofEl Agricultor Puertorriqueño, the magazine of the one-year-old Asociación de Agricultores Puertorriqueños, announced: “The time has come to proclaim that we have the undisputed right to intervene, cooperate, and discuss our administrative problems, our economic problems, our agricultural problems that greatly influence the general welfare of the community.”¹ With this declaration, the membership of the Asociación publicly affirmed their commitment to advocate in the legislative halls of the colonial empire on behalf of all Puerto Rican farmers. Farmers across the island, especially tobacco growers, heeded the call to action and affiliated with the Asociación...

  7. CHAPTER 1 The Development of the Tobacco Economy in Puerto Rico
    (pp. 17-37)

    The efforts of tobacco growers to secure beneficial legislation, economic protection, and financial relief for their crop cannot be understood without first examining the particularities of the tobacco sector during the first decades of the twentieth century. Tobacco cultivation in Puerto Rico experienced cycles of expansion and contraction during this time in response to local conditions, global economic realities, and shifting consumer trends. This chapter presents a comprehensive analysis of these cycles. The tobacco sector expanded rapidly and consistently until 1929, increasing in importance as a source of commercial exports. From 1907 through 1917, tobacco was the third-most-important commercial crop...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Life in the Tobacco Regions of Puerto Rico
    (pp. 38-63)

    The development of the tobacco leaf market and its importance as a commercial product is an important beginning in understanding the complex puzzle of how Puerto Ricans in the highland regions were affected by an expanding economic sector. The opportunities for participation in the colonial government structures that are discussed in the later chapters of this book occurred because tobacco cultivation became a viable economic activity, one that provided sustenance for families in the highlands. Because small-scale farmers cultivated the great majority of the tobacco leaf grown in Puerto Rico, the study of their families and farming operations provides an...

    (pp. 64-86)

    The expansion of tobacco cultivation that transformed many of the highland regions of Puerto Rico also provided an arena for Puerto Rican tobacco growers to negotiate three discrete areas of imperial control discussed in detail in this second group of chapters. The first and most important was access to the political structures that could effect changes for the local population. Through their affiliation with the Asociación de Agricultores Puertorriqueños (AAP), tobacco growers became a political force, securing access to the highest levels of the administration on both the island and the mainland. The second, and a direct consequence of the...

    (pp. 87-107)

    Access to the colonial political structure allowed tobacco growers, together with other Puerto Rican farmers, to demand the extension of beneficial agricultural legislation to the island. The early part of the twentieth century was a time of dramatic changes in the agricultural economy of the United States, resulting in agricultural legislation designed to protect the living standard of American farmers. Puerto Ricans were well aware of these changes and the resulting legislation, and argued that it would only be fair for these benefits to be extended to the island, an argument made all the more powerful after 1917, when Puerto...

    (pp. 108-131)

    As was the case with the negotiation of the colonial political structure and the demands for beneficial legislation, Puerto Ricans were involved in a constant transfer of agricultural technology between the island and the mainland. The development of tobacco as a profitable export product after the U.S. occupation of Puerto Rico occurred, in large part, because scientists, tobacco corporations, tobacco farmers, and the insular and federal governments supported the science of tobacco, from research to the practical application of scientific discoveries on the cultivation fields. This practical application of scientific knowledge also extended into the rural home. In an attempt...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 132-138)

    The study of tobacco cultivation in the highland regions of Puerto Rico from 1898 to 1940 provides an opportunity to examine the effects of the U.S. occupation and annexation on the island’s economy and society from new perspectives. The evidence presented suggests alternatives to the mostly one-dimensional historical narrative constructed by scholars of early twentieth-century Puerto Rico, in which the characteristics of the development of the sugar sector have become the analytical framework used to evaluate all agricultural development on the island. Additionally, the dynamics of economic, social, and political development in the tobacco regions add complexity to the simple...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 139-162)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 163-176)
  15. Index
    (pp. 177-182)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 183-184)