From Unincorporated Territory to Commonwealth Connecting Decolonization and U.S. Empire

Cahiers du MIMMOC. 2013;10 DOI 10.4000/mimmoc.1392


Journal Homepage

Journal Title: Cahiers du MIMMOC

ISSN: 1951-6789 (Online)

Publisher: Université de Poitiers

LCC Subject Category: Social Sciences: Social sciences (General)

Country of publisher: France

Language of fulltext: French, English

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Cynthia H. Tolentino


Double blind peer review

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Time From Submission to Publication: 12 weeks


Abstract | Full Text

My essay examines the transition of the Philippines and Puerto Rico from U.S. unincorporated territories to U.S. commonwealths in the mid-twentieth century. It studies the ideas of progress that are associated with this shift in legal and political status in order to then consider how they promote particular historical narratives and analytical frameworks for U.S. empire. The essay begins by examining dominant assumptions about the meanings and implications of the unincorporated territory and commonwealth in U.S. culture and history. Building on scholarship by Amy Kaplan, Christina Duffy Burnett, and Todd Shepard, I consider interpretations of the commonwealth as either a continuation or rectification of the U.S. colony status, but also as removed from the contemporaneous historical movement of decolonization. To understand how commonwealth stories operate as ambivalent narrations of U.S. decolonization, I analyze two fictional works, Bienvenido Santos’s 1955 short story “Brown Coterie” and the well-known 1957 musical West Side Story. The concluding paragraphs point to the possibilities opened up by situating the U.S. commonwealth in relation to twentieth century global and geopolitical formations such as United Nations trust territories and the outré-mer, rather than only within U.S. nation-based frameworks.