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Abstract

This article examines the following question: What characterizes Puerto Rican political development and what promise does electoral politics hold for Puerto Ricans in the United States? Its central premise is that an analytical framework which focuses on economic deprivation and racial prejudice is partial and inadequate to an understanding of the political experience of Puerto Ricans. Throughout the years, mainland Puerto Ricans have moved in and out of the political stage holding the banners of anti-colonialism, separatism, incorporation, and ethnic identity in search of vantage points from which they can satisfy their cultural, social, and economic needs. Despite the Airbus and circular migration, Puerto Ricans are part of established, stable, and integrated communities; in other words, they are a group that has been consistently interested in improving its socioeconomic status through electoral politics. There is, however, a negative corollary to this premise: while strong evidence suggests that electoral politics matters and does make a difference in the life chances and actual progress of previously excluded groups, this does not seem to be true for Puerto Ricans. But while this would indicate that electoral politics offers an empty promise, there are reasons that suggest a different approach to the question of political representation, namely, focusing on the leadership qualities and the demographic and political context necessary for success.

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