UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

From San Juan to Saigon : shifting conceptions of Puerto Rican identity during the Vietnam War Black, Ashley Leane


Between 1964 and 1973, the United States sent over 48,000 Puerto Rican soldiers to fight the war in Vietnam. While many enlisted voluntarily, many others were sent as draftees, subject to conscription as citizens of the United States. This is the starting point of this thesis, which looks at the intersection between citizenship, nationality and military service in relation to Puerto Rican identity at the time of the Vietnam War. This project focuses on the experiences of three distinct groups. First, it uses newspaper and archival research to explore opposition to the draft by Puerto Rican nationalists on the island, who used conscription as a tool to challenge the meaning of their citizenship. They questioned how a state that denied them the right to vote could require them to give the ultimate sacrifice and challenged both the moral and legal dimensions of conscription as it applied to the island. Next, it moves to the Puerto Rican barrios of New York to look at second-generation Puerto Ricans who came of age during the era of civil rights and the Vietnam War. Through the lens of popular culture, it looks at the early development of Puerto Rican stereotypes in Hollywood films and the way that these were challenged by a new generation of writers and activists by the close of the sixties. Finally, it turns to interviews and memoirs of Puerto Rican veterans to present a personal account of what it meant to be Puerto Rican in the U.S. armed forces at the time, and questions the success of the military’s effort to construct soldiers who would remain loyal American citizens after the war. Taken separately, each of these chapters provides a small glimpse of the Puerto Rican experience during the Vietnam War era, but taken together they contribute to our understanding of the ways in which the war, and the environment it created, played a role in the efforts of Puerto Ricans to reclaim and reconstruct their collective identity during this period.

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