Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Modern Foreign Languages

Major Professor

Michael Handelsman

Committee Members

Greg Kaplan, Luis Cano, Jana Morgan


This dissertation studies how language in Puerto Rican literature has been instrumental in reconstructing national identity in the context of the Island’s colonial histories. Bearing in mind that colonialism not only produced economic and political domination, but also epistemic control over cultural values and practices in general, Puerto Rican writers have used language to resignify a national imaginary that continues to be elusive and contradictory. To demonstrate how language in literature has become a site of struggle for decolonization, this study analyzes four representative voices from the nineteenth and twentieth century which construct distinct, yet complementary, identities.

Chapter one focuses on the strategies used by the voice of the jíbaro which speaks from the colonial difference while under the Spanish Empire to appropriate a new identity in works such as “Las coplas del jíbaro” by Miguel Cabrera and El Gíbaro by Manuel A. Alonso. Chapter two examines the voice of the creolized Spanish speaker who seeks traditional Hispanic roots in the writings and discourses of Pedro Albizu Campos and the essays of Antonio S. Pedreira. Chapter three analyzes the voice of the mulatto with a focus on the Afro-Caribbean inheritance in several poems from Tuntún de pasa y grifería by Luis Palés Matos and Dinga y Mandinga by Fortunato Vizcarrondo. Chapter four considers the issues of migration, Spanglish and code-switching through the voice of the diaspora in La carreta by René Marqués, “La guagua aérea” by Luis Rafael Sánchez and “Pollito Chicken” by Ana Lydia Vega.

Critical concepts of decoloniality as a means of reading literature and identity are at the core of this dissertation. Colonial difference, subversive complicity and epistemic processes of transformation illuminate new ways of conceptualizing Puerto Rico’s on-going struggle for decolonization.

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