Political Cartoons

Political cartoons are a valuable primary source as they allude to the feelings of the people at the time, which can be lost in more literal interpretations of a time period. Whereas history is usually told from the point of view of the victor, political cartoons allow a glimpse at the darker or lesser-known sides of a story. They usually depict sentiments ridiculing the actions of the government and illustrate the dissenting opinions within a society in a rather subtle matter. Because political cartoons are labeled as such, “cartoons”, many push them aside as childish banter. However, most of the time these cartoons contain strong political messages and reveal true histories.

The Portfolio of Editorial Cartoons we looked at provides a perfect example for the strength of political cartoons. With the literature we read for Tuesday about the nature of the relationship between the United States and the Philippines and Puerto Rico, the cartoons provide a different side to the story which we heard before. The cartoons also parallel the articles and illustrate many of the main arguments in a succinct fashion. I found this parallel most apparent between the cartoon on page 159 and Erman’s piece, where he discusses how the United States implemented foreign tariffs on Puerto Rico, despite it technically being within our sovereignty. The cartoon makes the same point as the article, but the cartoon also appeals more to the viewer’s emotions, as the United States clearly buries the Puerto Rican without a glimpse of remorse.

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I found the cartoon on page 162 particularly striking as well because it relates almost a bit too well with my topic for the research project. The cartoon depicts a Puerto Rican man, made to look barbaric and almost inhuman, looking on as Uncle Sam uses the hammer of English to nail Americanization into the lands of Puerto Rico. One of the main problems with the annexation of Puerto Rico was whether or not the residents could become true Americans, as the Erman article illustrates. The cartoon shows that, at the time, the United States wanted to assimilate the Puerto Ricans and make them become more “American” before allowing them to become citizens. The main tool used by Uncle Sam (who personifies the U.S.) is the english language, which becomes a tool of force and coercion.

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This cartoon is from 1900. In the year 2013, more than a century later, it fascinates me that the same exact issues still exist within our country. As new people enter our country, we continually impose our language as a necessity to survive and succeed. In my research, I have found multiple accounts of immigrant children entering school speaking a language from their home and then being forced to learn English, while neglecting their home culture and language. A century later, our country uses the same forceful tools that the artist of this cartoon ridiculed so long ago. Clearly, people took issue with the approach of forced assimilation at the turn of the twentieth century, so why has it survived well into the twenty-first?

Just as political cartoons remain a force within our society to this day, forced assimilation and americanization of immigrants remain large issues across the country. At this point, I am interested to know whether, in such a long period, our forceful nature to create ideal American citizens has changed at all, or if we remain like stubborn children, unwilling to accept the idea that maybe other ways exist that are better than our own. I think, as a society, we like to believe we have moved forward from our darker past, but I believe that we may have fallen deeper into the trap. At this moment, I think we pretend that issues such as forced assimilation no longer exist, and if we do not talk about them, then maybe they will disappear. However, these issues are just as present as they were when Imperialist America took over all the new land. Just because we are not conquering people on their own land does not mean it is not happening. If we look to our side, I am sure we will find traces of forced assimilation everywhere.

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