American Sociological Association

Race and the Empire-state: Puerto Ricans’ Unequal U.S. Citizenship

Contemporary theorizing regarding citizenship emphasizes the legal and social significance of citizenship status. Citizenship awards individuals a formal status and exclusive rights while also granting them membership into a national community. This study investigates tenets of liberal citizenship by examining the meaning of U.S. citizenship for Puerto Ricans. Drawing on 98 in-depth interviews with Puerto Ricans in Orlando, Florida, this study finds incongruences between theoretical understandings of citizenship and the experience of citizenship on the ground. Specifically, respondents define U.S. citizenship as a formal status and a set of rights; however, they express that their U.S. citizen status does not grant them membership into the American community. This study captures incompatibilities between legal and social dimensions of citizenship. I argue Puerto Ricans’ understandings of and experiences with U.S. citizenship stem from (1) the state’s marking Puerto Rico (as a place) and Puerto Ricans (as a people) as different and inferior and (2) racialization processes that conflate Latino with foreign and racial other. I advance the argument here that Puerto Ricans have a colonial/racialized citizenship constituted by unequal citizen status, differentiated citizen rights, and exclusion from the American national imaginary. As such, this study highlights the stratified structure of the institution of U.S. citizenship.


Ariana J. Valle





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