The Undecided Hero: Reflections on status plebiscites and constitutional conventions in two US possessions in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands

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The idea of a fractured political voice of colonial and post-colonial subjects has been amply debated in the anthropological literature and beyond: i.e. Fanon, 1967[1952]; Memmi, 1991[1957]; Spivak, 1990, 1994; Bhabha, 1994; Rosa, 1997; Sommer, 1997; Robotham, 2000; De Oto, 2003; Chatterjee, 2004. These scholars have used a variety of terms and metaphors to describe this fractured voice, "indecisive" being perhaps the most common. While many observers have assessed this indecisive political behavior of post-colonial subjects in broad negative terms, dismissing it as inconsequential and counterproductive, in this paper we will argue, following the insights of Richard Rosa [1997] and Doris Sommer [1997], that a more positive understanding of it is also possible. More specifically, we will argue with Rosa and Sommer that: (a) it is also possible to reach an interpretation of the colonized subject as an "undecided hero;" and (b) that the political teachings of eminent 19th century Puerto Rican philosopher/politician Eugenio Maria de Hostos (himself and "undecided hero") can help illuminate the argument we wish to put forward: that there is a productive dimension to indecisiveness. At a more empirical level, the aim is to shed some light on the political behavior of colonized subjects in two US territorial possessions in the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands (USVI); particularly as it is played out in status referendums held during their modem history (second half of the twentieth century and onward).


This article will be published in Les Cahiers des Amériques latines. The published paper will be available at: http://cal.revues.org/.

This publication was conducted under the auspice of the UMASS-UPRC Caribbean Summer Institute - a longterm collaborative research and study program between the University of Massachusetts Boston and the University of Puerto Rico at Cayey (http://www.umb.edu/academics/caps/international/puerto_rico).

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