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Imperial Representation

The concept of Imperial Representation that we talked about on Tuesday was something I never knew had a name.  African Americans have had to conceptualize themselves and their role in society, or else risk being completely erased from societal narrative when their predetermined role as slaves was no longer relevant. Black solidarity has always been something that fascinated me, how individual action was always for the betterment of the whole; the pride of individuals who ultimately reflect the resilience of a forced community of people. Though imperial representation has a negative connotation and is normally seen as the fulfillment of stereotypes, I think this need to create and obtain a place in society is what drove many to act in a way that progressively change their narratives.

Yet, as shown in Darkening Mirrors, all progression is subject to influence and hindrance by the dominant narrative. While there were very progressive roles being played by black actors, and great plays being produced by black authors, there was still a lot of prejudice and stereotypes being portrayed. The best example of this complex double standard is Hattie McDaniel. Though she was the first black woman to win an Academy Award, it was for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind. Her success as a black actress is undermined by the role of imperial representation which gained her this acclaim.

Bringing it into today’s contexts, there is still a fair amount of projection taking place in the public sphere, but this time the dominant narrative is not the only one. Hip-hop culture, just as Jazz did in the past, is giving agency to those whose lives and experiences are different than those in the main stream. The popularity of the music produced by these marginalized groups is, in a way, giving them a space in society in which to flourish. By make something so creative and different than anything else in society, something that it is condemned and celebrated at the same time, requires a fair amount of self-confidence and promotion. As with Jazz, this form of black expression began to expand and gain acceptance in the dominant narrative, and allowed an amount of social agency through the influences of their culture.  

Just as a baby bird flexes it’s wings for the first time, the impulse to explore the possibilities of this freedom is unstoppable.  This is especially apparent when we look at their choices of accessories. Bling is, in a very materialistic way, showing this re- appropriation of imperial representation. Every artist in the movie said they wore bling to show their success; their separation from the expected narrative of being poor young minorities growing up in hard conditions. Now that the sphere of the “have’s” is being infiltrated by the “have not’s”, black hip-hop culture is almost obsessed with appropriation of material wealth which was off limits to them before.

But, as we saw all too clearly in the movie, the progression of one groups comes at the expense of another.

“My Struggle Is Not Your Struggle”

This weekend, Unbound presented a piece at the Shiva called Not Anonymous. The premise of Not Anonymous was a combination of spoken word and stage choreography to let members of the Vassar community talk about uncomfortable topics. In a scene in which an actress described how her friends dubbed her an “honorary white girl” because she “talked white” despite being a person of color, the actress reminded the audience: “This is my struggle, not yours.” Yes, we can have sympathy for people who have struggles we do not face ourselves. No, we cannot conflate their suffering with ours.

This actress’ words repeated themselves over and over when I was watching Bling. The cast of hip-hop artists, a reputed grill-maker, and a former Sierra Leonean child soldier seemed to be telling a story that was not theirs to tell and also taking on their suffering in the process.

Raekwon and Tego are people of color and referred to the Sierra Leoneans as “my people” throughout the entire documentary. This is problematic because, though these artists are people of color like the Sierra Leoneans, they are not necessarily descendants of Sierra Leonean slaves; they could have descended from slaves from a number of other regions in Africa. When Raekwon and Tego refer to the Sierra Leoneans as “my people,” they participate in the homogenization of African culture that mainstream American culture already promulgates. This is similar to the way minstrel blacks in Baptiste’s introduction blackfaced themselves and contributed to imperialist stereotypes.

As a non-descendant from Africa altogether, the role of artist Paul Wall in the
documentary confounded me. As a white rapper who grew up in the middle class, his
relevance to the Sierra Leone voyage is not obvious—at least until one remembers that
his song “Grillz” contributes to the expectation that hip hop artists wear bling to portray
their steep rise in social class. (Why he wears diamond grillz to show his rise from a
middle-class upbringing that sent him to university is another issue in and of itself; that of
his relevance to hip-hop in general). I am uncomfortable with the way that Paul Wall’s
presence dominated the documentary. His personal reactions to the poverty in Sierra
Leone is made central to the narrative. Several minutes are spent fussing over his
sensitivity to the suffering of mutilated refugees. I got a sense that the film was trying to
project “Poor Paul Wall, this must be really hard for him.” Before that, he is seen arguing
with the diamond tycoon about his role in the blood diamond war. The film spends too
much time showing Paul Wall’s “sensitive” disbelief that people live in such hopeless
conditions. The audience is led to pity his difficult struggle.

One could interpret the time spend on Paul’s reactions as a sort of “oppressor
seeing-oppressed-for-first-time,” but the cruel joke is that Paul does not recognize
himself as inherently different from Raekwon and Tego. Necessarily, his experiences as a
white man have been different than those of the black hip hop artists. When the film
promises that this is not a story of race, but a story about wealth, it falsely pretends that
stories can actually be absent of race. If this voyage was not going to progress Paul
Wall’s exploration of his white privilege, it should have spent less time on his personal
journey in general because, after all, this documentary is not about his struggle.

Ishmael Beah’s situation is vastly different. As a former-child soldier from Sierra Leone, the all-but-enslaved Sierra Leoneans the cast sees mining for diamonds are more accurately “his brothers.” (Interestingly, he never remarks this). It is not until the last twenty minutes of the film that the audience learns he is a refugee of phenomenal exception: he had been chosen out of three hundred refugees to be an ambassador. Pictures of him and Bill Clinton flash on the screen. Ishmael received a college degree. His situation has ended up completely differently than almost every other child soldier in Sierra Leone, of every proto-enslaved diamond worker. He has suffered like them in the past, and he may be facing psychologically damaging circumstances as a refugee in the United States, but his struggles are not exactly the same as those who will never leave Sierra Leone.

The cast of this documentary may face their own struggles, but at the end of the day, they sit higher up in the global caste system that Kanye refers to than the slave-laborers in Sierra Leone. How can they be anywhere near to understanding what it means to be true brothers with them? “It will soon be Friday. I’ll go back to Texas. But a year from now, they’ll still be sleeping in the ditch at night,” says a self-realizing Paul Wall.

This film is progressive, but not progressive enough to give voices to the millions of Sierra Leoneans who have neither the means of Raekwon and Tego, nor the chance of upward mobility like Ishmael. I would have liked for this movie to focus more on the differing situations of the cast members and their commitment to a diamond-free hip hop culture.

The Performativity of Otherness

In Darkening Mirrors: Imperial Representation in Depression-Era African American Performance, Stephanie Leigh Batiste “focuses on black American cultural and ideological struggles against racism and oppression during the 1930s, as these were embedded within an attempt to define and articulate an inherent Americanness that was also black and to develop a diasporic sensibility that reached beyond national boundaries” (Batiste, 2).  Batiste’s quote speaks to the cultural representations of Americanness and how black performance and black performers fit or don’t fit into those representations of America.  Therefore, Batiste examines how “race itself is performative, taking on race as a structure of power, and thereby assuming a hand in producing race and blackness” (Batiste, 7).  This idea supports the concept that race is a social construct and is constructed in order to create a structure of power and therefore, a hierarchical structure.  Batiste discusses how the concept of race performativity has allowed for the constructions of blackness and black otherness performed by African Americans, but the effect of that element of performativity is something that performers have no control over (Batiste, 9).  As a result, “Such performance of an othered, markedly different, and fully constructed culture and identity permitted performers both to embody rejected cultural characteristics and to distance themselves from an identity they demarcated as ‘not me’” (Batiste, 15).  However, in a film or a play, while someone may reject the assigned cultural characteristics, as a performer, they must still act that cultural characteristic out for the viewing of the audience and ensure that their own personal distancing from the assigned identity is invisible.

The elements of construction and performance were extremely reminiscent of Marcus Rediker’s passage, The Slave Ship, in the sense that Rediker also emphasizes the construction of race aboard the slave ships, with the intention of categorizing people for trade.  This categorization was also something that could not be controlled by those being categorized, and was something that was done in order to create a certain “presentation” or performance of slaves.  Rediker discusses how those in the slave market were segregated based on skin color, size, and general appearance, which automatically separates people based on a certain sense of “otherness” or a characteristic that could be considered “markedly different” (Batiste, 15).  Therefore, the experience on the slave ship was central to the capitalist facet of modernity in the sense that the ship was used as a factory to produce and distribute, while also producing categories of race.  And as Batiste says, “Given the radical exclusion of African Americans from mainstream society and its dreams of freedom and expansion, it seemed overly hopeful, if not radical, for blacks to participate in imaginative appropriations of open lands, a material process from which they had been excluded in American history except, for the most part, as bound labor” (Batiste, 27).  This quote emphasizes Batiste’s point of how the element of performativity can create a system of exclusion, while at the same time can support modernity and redeploy those dreams of freedom and expansion in order to engage “with this major symbolic discourse of American identity” (Batiste, 28).

However, with respect to performing within the limitations of a “fully constructed culture and identity,” does performing that cultural identity perpetuate the constructions of race by continuing to create cultural characteristics that people may in fact reject?  Because “Artists struggled to communicate black stories that would ring true to black American experiences and not offend federal or white sensibilities or violate tricky antimiscegenation laws,” how effective was their communication in the end (Batiste, 22)?  As a result, does that message then reinforce the symbolic discourse of American identity or challenge it?

Ideological Representations in One, Two, Three

Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three alludes to the ideological conflicts between the capitalist and communist worlds. The film is set in West Berlin during the Cold War. The location of the protagonist MacNamara and his company Coca Cola symbolize American ideals clashing against those of East Berlin and the USSR. Through a comedic portrayal, a battle ensues between the character’s competing values of their respective political and economic systems.

Scarlett Hazeltine and Otto Piffl’s union represent the ideological conflicts between communism and capitalism. Scarlett is the product of American consumerism as the daughter of wealthy Coca Cola executive, Wendell Hazeltine. She is adorned with the latest fashions including expensive jewelry and fur coats. Conversely, Otto is depicted in ragged clothes, no socks, and he doesn’t wear shorts – an Americanized view of a typical communist. He despises the materialist draw to capitalism and its inequity, describing the system as “… a dead herring in the moonlight. It shines, but it stinks!” Following plans of their move to the USSR, Scarlett gives up her fur coat in response to Otto’s communist claim that every woman should have a fur coat before somebody has two. She is too stupid to comprehend his meaning and looks forward to breakfast in bed due to a lack of table and chairs. The respective possessions and values of Otto and Scarlett represent the variance in principles between the two systems.

At the end of the film, MacNamera attempts to “Americanize” Otto as he must pretend to renounce his communist background in order to appear presentable to Scarlett’s parents. Otto vehemently resists these attempts, sticking to his belief that capitalism is an inferior system. Through a series of fast paced scenes, American capitalism ‘triumphs’ over communism through the benefits of consumerism and capitalist culture. “Consumers could choose liquids, powders, or flakes; boxes, sacks, plastic bottles, or cardboard drums” (De Grazia, 421). This quote provides a real life example of consumer culture and the production of a wide range of products in a capitalist market. MacNamera chooses between a mass of different colored suit jackets, coats, pants, and accessories to properly dress Otto as a respectable American and non-communist. In the race against time scene driving to the airport to meet with Scarlett’s parents, boxes of hats are carelessly thrown out the window until one is chosen as suitable. After a few blunders in maintaining his role, the Hazeltines fall for the façade and capitalism succeeds.

One, Two, Three presents a comedic take on tensions between the USSR and the United States due to the polarity of their political systems. Each character in the film is representative of their respective systems. The interactions between these characters mirror conflicts in the ideologies of the communist and capitalist system.

One, Two, Three and Corporations Abroad

In just the description of Billy Wilder’s One, Two, Three, on the back of the VHS cover, it was obvious that the film was going to be a fast paced one, if not a completely hectic and overwhelming one.  The film proved to be just that, while also providing a great deal of commentary on United States corporations as well as the United States’ mentality and demeanor as a whole.  The film was funny, witty, and also downright stressful.  At all times of the film, MacNamara could always be found solving a problem, hearing about a new problem, or finding out that the solution to another problem was no longer necessary.  While the film was certainly amusing to watch, the greater message conveyed about American corporations and the attitude towards expanding internationally was certainly not an amusing one, but rather a message that exemplified the severity of how corporations are “generally referring to a for-profit organization that can operate at the discretion of its owners and managers free of social and legislative control” (Newfield, 66).

In his discussion of corporations, Christopher Newfield describes how, “A business corporation can own property; buy, sell, and control assets, including other corporations; pay or avoid taxes; write or break contracts; make and market products; and engage in every kind of economic activity,” while also having no liability for any of the company’s debts (Newfield, 66).  In addition, Newfield examines how corporations have been able to recast themselves “as the world’s only true modernizers, capable of moving the economy and society relentlessly forward, often against their will,” but well enough that we are so dependent on large corporations and therefore allow the initial recasting to occur (Newfield, 70).

These corporate values were very much reflected in One, Two, Three.  In attempting to solve all of the problems related to Scarlett and Otto, MacNamara could constantly be seen engaging in “every kind of economic activity,” in that he was so desperate to reshape Otto into an “appropriate” man, with no communist beliefs and therefore started an entire process of bartering for Otto from East Berlin, buying Otto a completely new wardrobe, reshaping him into an ideal “American” man, and preserving Scarlett’s virtue through Otto’s behavior (Newfield, 66).  MacNamara purchased so many different types of services and products in order to ensure that Otto appeared presentable to his new father-in-law, an example of controlling assets, because MacNamara’s sole intention behind all of the trouble he went through was so he would be able to be promoted and achieve a higher position.  MacNamara stripped Otto of his anti-capitalist values, so that MacNamara would be able to support his own very capitalist values and move up in the corporation.

Throughout the film, we see MacNamara engage in all types of economic activity, everything but the activity that relates to the expansion of Coca-Cola as a corporation.  Instead, MacNamara uses his status as an executive for Coca-Cola in order to manipulate and exercise his power and control with the Scarlett and Otto situation, which supports how corporations can and do “operate at the discretion of its owners and managers free of social and legislative control” (Newfield, 66).  Therefore, the film portrays a United States corporation as a means to solve conflicts that arise in executives’ personal lives, and as a means to manipulate and control outside agencies and factors.  While MacNamara and Coca-Cola certainly had a lot of power throughout the movie, the power was also misused in order to solely benefit the executives of Coca-Cola and create disadvantages for those who were considered un-American.

After watching the film, I couldn’t help but wonder how accurate this depiction of United States corporations abroad was.  In addition, while the film was released in 1961, how different are our “American” views and values now?  Have they changed?

Capitalist Movie Madness

 

As a avid cinema consumer and Italian student I have experienced many forms of cinematic display from the 1960’s ranging from Fellini’s plays and documentaries to unseen directors cuts from Pasolini’s La Dolce vita. The messages conveyed in movies of this era vary but almost always touch upon the delicate political situations of the time. One, Two, Three by Billy Wilder is no exception, I found myself laughing and even commiserating with the storyline as the gradual take over of consumer capitalism in the movie is still so applicable to life today, while a rather over exaggerated and unrealistic situation is displayed the overarching themes of the movie hit at a deeply political and unstable aspect of the world at that time.

Small details of the movie that were meant to be funny or silly really stuck out to me as significant indicators of capitalism, its effects on people and the political situation, the names of certain expensive clothing items in the escalation dressing scene that could be tied to certain negative or unallied countries along with the sheer absurdity and frivolity of the transformation scene in general. The significance of the German secretary and her sexualization, exploitation, and commodification by both the Americans and the Russians ties into the political and economic atmosphere and the real punchline of the entire movie, the pepsi bottle in the vending machine bought by the Coca Cola man just seals the deal for me. I felt like it accurately demonstrated the excess, extreme and competitive nature of capitalism even in divided Germany during the Cold War.

pepsi-vs-coke

As one of my classmates pointed out in their blog post One, two, three, four, five six…. the movie does run extremely long and maybe as they said, 45 mins too long but if we refer to the reading by Pells we are given an insight into the cinematic mood of this time period which would not have necessarily agreed. Movie goers were eager for European movies and European based movies as there was a shift in the demand right around the time of the production of One, Two, Three. While it did not do well at the box office it is a prime example of the cinematic displays of the time, all at once a political satire, comedic show and love story while it’s supremely quick paced actions gave the audience a hard and fast political slap in the face. The movie accurately demonstrates the audiences desire for a break from reality, i.e. length, while still giving them the satire and politics of the time period.

Ironically the building of the Berlin Wall disrupted production of the movie and makes the film an even more significant historical piece to us, capturing both the political and social climates of the 1960’s and forever recording it in black and white. I would love to know if the director of the film had any idea of the political upset about to occur and how his movie was influenced by the building of the Berlin Wall. Did he have any idea of the effects the wall would have or how long it would scar the face of Berlin and it’s people and how relevant his movie would be to capitalism today?

Capitalism and Art

The readings from Victoria de Grazia and Richard Pells illuminate the differences between post-World War II societies in Europe and the United States, and how these differences were shaped and influenced by forces of capitalism. Particularly interesting to me is Pells’ discussion of the expansion of the film industry and entertainment markets during this period, because it forces a conversation about and evaluation of the purpose and objective of art in society. As Pells details the ascendancy of American media (especially film) across Europe in the decade following the second World War, he occasionally editorializes, interjecting his narrative with claims like, “All too often, European filmmakers seemed patronizing, as if they thought their job was to educate and elevate the masses, to introduce them to ‘art’ and high culture. Hollywood, by comparison, was adamantly antielitist.” (Pells 1997:210) The author lauds the allure of entertainment and spectacle that was embedded in most American films, eschewing the pedantic inclinations of Europe’s filmmakers. But this contrast is not merely a matter of style or taste, and it requires an understanding of the strong ideological attachment that the United States held with respect to the free market and capitalist expansion.

As Pells explains,

“This urge to entertain sprang from the need to sell a product, rather than create a work of art. In [the critics’] opinion, the emphasis on entertainment was a sign of commercialization of American culture, another example of how every art form had been ‘commodified’ in a country devoted more than any other to the capitalist ethos. The European response was to insulate films and television programs as much as possible from the pressures of the marketplace.” (210)

Further, Pells goes on to recount how Hollywood and Washington formed a cabal to achieve the dual goals of opening up the European films markets to Hollywood productions and ensuring that the films that were subsequently exported sufficiently reflected a positive view of the United States. (With this in mind, Pells’ characterization of Hollywood as “adamantly antielitest” seems incoherent.) American art, then, became a tool for industrial powers to rake in more riches from overseas markets, and was heavily ensconced in a profit-centered system.

The “highbrow” mindset of European filmmakers, on the other hand, comes from a different set of principles, and from a society that is less oriented around the bent of capitalist production. This ethos is laid out in de Grazia’s book Irresistible Empire. Following World War II many of Europe’s eminent governments (i.e. France, Italy, the UK, Germany) aimed to establish a society that honored civic responsibilities and ensured social welfare. “In principle,” de Grazia writes, “more and more egalitarian consumer habits would be accompanied by more widespread political democracy, social justice, the satisfaction of basic needs for decencies…All in all, getting consumer goods was an important means of achieving the good society. But never could it be the end-all.” (de Grazia 2005:344) Consumption could not be a means in and of itself, which was a stark contrast to the prevailing ideology across the Atlantic. This spirit of civic duty was subsequently manifested in policies across Europe to keep television channels and other media mostly government-controlled, which–in my view–implies that art should be regarded as something of a public good. Diverging from, and even resisting, the perceived American mentality of creation-for-consumption, “the [European] states guaranteed that a certain portion of screen and broadcasting time would be set aside for local productions. Supposedly, these protectionist policies ensured that European audiences would not be engulfed and their tastes polluted by the trash emanating from Hollywood and the American television networks.” (1997:210)

The history presented by Pells and de Grazia offer us questions about how art, specifically film and popular media, should be conceived and applied–and for whom. Is there any responsibility that comes with the creation of art, and how has its “commodification” affected or shifted that responsibility, if at all? The cultural exchanges that this week’s readings brought out between the United States and Europe provide a good setting to start this conversation.

Exploring U.S. Colonization of Puerto Rico

Last class, Professor Alamo ended the discussion by asking us to resist the urge to vaguely abhor the United State’s colonialism. Part of what he meant was that we should think critically about the specific, evil-doing (here meaning racist, classist, and sexist) mechanisms that gave U.S. colonialism a dirty reputation. But he also meant that if we demonize U.S. colonialism, we must also critically analyze other imperialist endeavors, such as those of Spain in South America.
The editorial cartoons published in Harper’s Weekly between 1898 and 1900 address U.S. colonialism in relation to Spanish colonialism. The cartoons’ overarching opinion on this topic is that territories like Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines make the decision and are in favor of transferring colonial power from Spain to the U.S. (as in the cartoon She Can’t Resist Him). In other cartoons, Uncle Sam is seen as providing a ticket to the “winning team,” or to the side of prosperity and vitality when he offers political control of an area. The message that these cartoons convey is that these territories, which are personified by small, dark-skinned, ragged caricatures, believe that they would prosper more under American rule than Spanish rule. This feeds directly into the problematic narrative of Americans as perceiving their colonialism as positive for other cultures.
The term “benevolent assimilation” was meant to portray U.S. involvement in Puerto Rico as a chance to improve Puerto Rico’s economy, sanitize its citizens (as was the case with VD-infected prostitutes), and offer Puerto Rico a chance to side with them, the perceived dominators of global affairs. Yet as almost every article in “Reactions to the U.S. Takeover in Puerto Rico 1900-1917” shows, most Puerto Ricans opposed U.S. “occupation,” as one called it.
The American attitude of perceived goodness in its colonialism is ironic because it marks a complete transformation from American colonials as victims of the British crown to perpetrators of harmful colonialism abroad. The question that these cartoons unearth, alongside professor Alamo’s question, is how the American’s perceived “benevolent” assimilation and colonization during this time period is linked to how Spain’ perceived its own colonization. Also, it can call into question how America views its own, former subjugation to British colonization centuries before. Also, when a country reverses its role in the machine of colonialism, how does this change the way it views its past involvement in it?
If we think of the U.S. as a body, the transformation from victim of colonization to perpetrator of colonization reminds us of a common psychological path taken by those who have suffered in the past. According to Abbe Smith, “Although victims do not always become perpetrators, a truism repeated by prosecutors at sentencing as if it were a profound revelation never before put into words, it is the rare serious perpetrator who was not also a victim” (369).
Thinking of the U.S’s reversal of roles in this context, did our route to aggression result from past trauma as a nation at the hands of the British?

Works Cited:
Smith, Abbe, “The “Monster” in All of Us: When Victims Become Perpetrators” (2005). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 219.
http://scholarship.law.georgetown.edu/facpub/219

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 8.16.07 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2013-10-23 at 8.14.28 PM

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.

Sexy Citizens?

In “Sex and Citizenship,” Laura Briggs explores the relationship between the Keywords Colonial and Body. She states, “Between 1917 and 1918, then, gender and women’s bodies became a significant idiom in which colonial relations were negotiated (70).” Briggs poses the question: who controlled the sexuality of Puerto Rico’s poor women? The terminology created and utilized by the U.S. reflected that of an empire in its naming of Puerto Rico as a “incorporated territory.” Briggs argues that the relationship between island and mainland was rapidly changing during this period, and that the inaction of a prostitution policy provided a concrete and safe platform to debate these new relationships. As the U.S. began to seize control over its newly “incorporated territory” it started with those bodies at the bottom of its racialized and gendered social hierarchy. The representation of these “citizens” through the production of stories on who prostitutes were, focused specifically on the status of their health. These women were portrayed as sickly and diseased by those supporting the prostitution policy; either dangerously infectious or sympathetically in need of health care. Ironically, the U.S. presence most likely made the health circumstances of the population worse in Puerto Rico as a small number of Americans accumulated the concentration of wealth. Although there was much push back against the prostitution policy in Puerto Rico, the production of these stories functioned to emphasize and moralize rhetoric of American Exceptionalism in the United States.

I’m specifically interested in what led some Puerto Rican women to support the prostitution policies put in place. In other words, what are the ideologies and discursive structures that led these women to support “sanitization” efforts?