excerpted from: Race, Space, and the Puerto Rican Citizenship , 78 Denver University Law Review (2001)
On April 12, 1900, the Congress of the United States enacted the Foraker Act of 1900, which replaced the governing military regime in Puerto Rico with a civil form of governance. Section VII of this act created a Puerto Rican citizenship for the residents of the island. This citizenship was reaffirmed by the United States Supreme Court in 1904 by its ruling in Gonzales v. Williams. The Puerto Rican citizenship was again reaffirmed on November 18, 1997, by the Puerto Rican Supreme Court through its ruling in Miriam J. Ramirez de Ferrer v. Juan Mari Bras. Mari Bras, however, through his renouncing of U.S. Citizenship, sought to redefine Section VII as a source of law that recognized a Puerto Rican nationality separate from that of the United States.
Rogers M. Smith contends that U.S. "justices were apparently willing for Puerto Ricans, like other peoples of color, to be designated 'American' so long as what that meant in terms of citizenship status remained unclear." Smith's argument suggests that the Puerto Rican citizenship is a direct result of the racist ideologies of the moment. In this paper I would like to analyze this argument by arguing that the Puerto Rican citizenship is directly linked to a status of space that was in turn created by racist ideologies. In other words, while it is evident that there is a relationship between the Puerto Rican citizenship and the racial ideologies of the progressive era, this relationship is mediated by a spatial configuration.
The Puerto Rican spatial configuration that I am alluding to can be understood as a liminal condition. This notion of a liminal condition is informed by a reading of Michel Foucault's notion of the liminal, which he uses to explain the status of the madman at the dawn of the Renaissance. Explaining how madmen were generally placed on ships and ferried away from the city, Foucault argues that
The madman's voyage is at once a rigorous division and an absolute Passage. In one sense, it simply develops, across a half-real, half-imaginary geography, the madman's liminal position on the horizon of medieval concern - a position symbolized and made real at the same time by the madman's privilege of being confined within the city gates: his exclusion must enclose him; if he cannot and must not have another prison than the threshold itself, he is kept at the point of passage. He is put in the interior of the exterior, and inversely. A highly symbolic position, which will doubtless remain his until our own day, if we are willing to admit that what was formerly a visible fortress of order has now become the castle of our conscience.
In the context of Puerto Rico, this argument would suggest that the Puerto Rican space is located on the horizon or the juridical line separating the foreign from the domestic. The political expression of this juridical status could suggest that Puerto Rico is somewhere in between colonial and territorial status. My contention in this paper is that this ambiguous condition facilitated the creation of a Puerto Rican citizenship that could be distinguished from an Anglo-American citizenship and an alien status. Moreover, this ambiguous condition served as a prison for the Puerto Rican citizen, preventing him from becoming either an Anglo-American citizen or a citizen of a sovereign nation-state. It also resulted in a status that was not entitled to the constitutional protections and civil liberties guaranteed to the U.S. citizen and the alien.