Nelson A. Denis' War Against All Puerto Ricans: An Informal Review

Author’s Note: Feeling sort of better since I wrote this. It’s a process! But wanted to get it out there as a signal that I’m still alive and kicking.

Been feeling mentally unwell lately. Social isolation, emotional withdrawal, boredom. You know the hierarchy of needs. Without the middle part of the pyramid, you’re not going to get the top part. No elf game fun. Started reading again to stimulate my brain and also because I accumulated a tall stack of books since my last spree. Picked War Against All Puerto Ricans for starters, a critical history of the American occupation of Puerto Rico by Nelson Antonio Denis.

It was a quicker read than I expected, but nevertheless full of research never before compiled (including, surprisingly, primary-source material from elderly boricuas or their families). Denis divided the book into three parts: historical context of the early/mid twentieth century; biographies of significant figures during that time; and the unfolding of the national revolution and its repression. Each section complements the others by framing the raw facts and chronology with the lives of individuals who, although major players, also exemplified the subjective experience of Puerto Ricans in general: the sugarcane workers, the urban folk, the intelligentsia. It’s a good book whether you’ve heard before about the Ponce Massacre or the mass sterilization of 34% of Puerto Rican women, both executed by the US.

It was especially useful to read in light of J. Sakai’s Settlers, as a crash course on one American colony’s history to see how the US treated racialized workers and their political dissent at the same time that it was courting white workers to fall in line with the ethnonationalist capitalist empire. A reminder that liberalism and fascism are not useful categories of material analysis since liberal states and fascist states end up doing the same things for the same reasons (except for a dubious notion that one is externally targeted and the other is internal). Also helps me better understand my grandparents’ experiences which they avoided talking about, for good reason. My grandfather cut sugarcane in his youth; didn’t know that virtually all sugarcane plantations were American-owned. Stuff like that.

Wish I had more to say. Brain’s probably cooked, still. Good book, upsetting to read in many parts on account of the American occupiers’ severe cruelty. Are you going to let that stop you? Anyway. What else. I’m baking red velvet cookies for Valentine’s Day, and will share the recipe if people like them. Going to have a nice trip the day of. Planned it myself for my partner and I, and the part of my brain that works is excited. Made a good tikka masala. My little baby boy cat Rainbow turned 1 year old. Walked 1.5 hours home after getting scammed at a mechanic shop and missing my bus ride while my phone was at 5%. Got catcalled. Bought fancy tequila.


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