To Join the Concert of Advanced Nations: The Global Aspirations of Puerto Rico’s Obreros Ilustrados, 1897–1915

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 8:30 AM
Madison Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jorell Meléndez-Badillo, University of Connecticut at Storrs
During the first two decades of the twentieth century a handful of skilled urban Puerto Rican workers will forge an intellectual community, which I call the lettered barriada (working-class neighborhood). It was created in the margins of the island’s cultural elite through a nexus of literary production, political power, and spatial configurations. It is from within the lettered barriada that a cluster of obreros ilustrados (enlightened workers) will use print media, labor rituals, and cultural events to imagine themselves as part of the turn of twentieth-century’s global labor community.

My paper explores the intersections between workers’ global aspirations and their understanding of local conditions as it materialized in their cultural, intellectual, and literary production. I argue that actively participating in the international circulation of labor’s print media allowed Puerto Rico’s obreros ilustrados to access new cultural referents to understand their local and social realities. Furthermore, because workers had been excluded from the conversations happening amongst the island’s cultural elites, envisioning the lettered barriada as a social space that went beyond the geographical confines of Puerto Rico allowed obreros ilustrados to engage in international conversations. In sum, the lettered barriada became a space for workers to assert themselves as intellectual and political subjects.  

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