Throughout this book I have stressed the inseparability of political struggles
and discourse-one cannot be understood without the other. Historically,
people struggle over power, but they produce the meaning of their contests
through discourses about legitimacy, justice, citizenship, and community.
Puerto Rico, these discourses have often been produced through debates over
racially coded moral values and sexual practices. In this book I have demon-
strated that merging racial definitions with sexual norms and practices has
often been an integral part of the formation of social movements, national
identities, and state policies in Puerto Rico.
I have felt a special urgency about this project because in the Puerto Rican
academy, sexuality has not usually been considered "political" or worthy of
The intimate historical connections in Puerto Rico
berween racial identities and sexuality also remain largely ignored.
position allows sexuality-and its frequent racial connotations-to remain
relegated to the realm of "the natural," where its terms need not be subjected
to serious scrutiny or struggle. As long as this state of affairs holds sway, any
attempt to transform society will remain seriously hampered-not only be-
cause sexual options for women will be limited but also because "natural"
sexual norms will continue to be invoked in the defense of repressive and
unjust political positions and policies.
Creating a sexual threat-and thus a common enemy around which the
community can bond in self-defense-is a particularly powerful way of con-
structing consensus in times of great social stress and change. In Puerto Rico
during the late nineteenth and early rwentieth centuries, the focus of such
sexual panics was the prostitute-the dangerous, disreputable, and implicitly
darkened workingwoman who had to be ripped out of the heart of the
community. Both sexual cleansing campaigns emerged in response to orga-
nized challenges to the status quo. They were also based in fearful reaction to
plebeian women's contestation of the social limits placed on them. During
the 1890s, young women, many of African descent, migrated to the city of
Ponce in record numbers, where they lived and loved outside the limits of
the patriarchal family. By 1918, working-class women posed a different kind