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In the summer of 1898 the United States attained its long-standing goal of acquiring strategic insular possessions in the Pacific and the Caribbean. Moreover, with its decisive defeat of Spain, U.S. expansionists could rightly claim that their nation had achieved imperial status. But the United States not only appropriated far-flung exotic islands but also claimed sovereignty over approximately 10 million inhabitants of the lands ceded by Spain1 The sobering question that confronted the United States after the euphoria of military victory was the legal status and political rights of these subject peoples. Eventually it devised a complicated structure of laws that prescribed a distinctive citizenship status for the subjects of each of its territorial possessions (Smith, 1997: 428).

While the inhabitants of the territories were all perceived to he so racially and culturally different as to justify their permanent exclusion from the American polity, U.S. empire builders believed that effective colonial rule required that they be Americanized. Colonial administrations embarked on ambitious campaigns to transform the legal systems and codes of Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines and to install a program of universal public education of which English-language instruction was the cornerstone. While Americanization, or the colonizing mission, was never a coherent policy, it did identify the general outlines of the institutional transformation and political change that the colonial governors were expected to undertake. Colonial officials were permitted, indeed expected, to modify the content of the Americanization programs to adjust to local conditions.


Publisher Acknowledgment

Reproduced with permission of Rowman & Littlefield: Caban, P. (2002) The Colonizing Mission of the U.S. in Puerto Rico, in A. Sampaio, C. Vélez-Ibañez and M. González-Estay (Ed.), Transnational Latino/a Communities: Re-examining Politics, Processes and Culture, pp. 115-145. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

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