The relationships of Puerto Rico and Cuba respectively to the United States is apt in two main senses: firstly, both classify ethnographically as “Hispanic” nations and peoples, and therefore, their relationships to the U.S. can be thought through the broader category of the relationships of Hispanic nations and peoples to the United States. Secondly, the geographical location of Puerto Rico and Cuba fits within the geopolitical conception of international relations, whereby both countries’ relationships to the United States may be defined in terms of U.S. relations to Caribbean nations. However, such classifications clearly miss the most important difference existing when considering the relationships of the two countries to the U.S.: that is the ideological difference, whereby Cuba’s socialist political system has been a source of geopolitical antagonism to the United States for over half a century, influencing, for example, the socio-economic and politico-ideological backgrounds of Cubans that abide in America. In this regard, comparisons and contrasts of these relationships through ethnographic categories such as “Hispanic” seem inappropriate, in so far as it is this ideological dimension that has dominantly shaped the relationships in question.
This point itself can be borne out through taking a non-U.S. perspective, and without any reference to the categories of “Hispanic” ethnography. As Oboler notes, the very label of the “Hispanic” emerges in “the specific context of U.S. society that fostered the emergence of this ethnical label as an ideological construct – a label that is thus specific to the political and daily life of this nation.” (18) Hence, the category of the Hispanic, as Oboler argues, is not adequate to identify countries such as Cuba and Puerto Rico: this is an American imposed perspective on the region. To distinguish between different relationships that the U.S. has with “Hispanic” nations in the region or with Hispanic peoples living in the U.S. is essentially to look at the question through a dominantly American perspective and ideology. From this perspective, there is therefore a difference between “Hispanic” nations relationship to the U.S. in so far as Puerto Rico has remained close to the U.S. while Cuba, since the rise of Castro, has been a geopolitical opponent. Yet the “Hispanic” label tells us nothing about the reason for this difference since this label itself is ideological and has no meaning, following Oboler, in the very “Hispanic” world it attempts to describe.

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It is in this sense that another description of such relations is perhaps more apt. Gonzalez describes the difference in colonial practice between England and Spain in the region, above all in terms of “colonialization and conversion.” (13) The Hispanic world was thus constituted by a greater attempt to assimilate indigenous culture to European culture, one that was lacking in the English colonial project. Accordingly, the identification of “Hispanic” in a more historically neutral sense is therefore a relation to assimilated indigenous peoples, which was absent in English colonialism. This however, still does not explain the difference between U.S. relations to Cuba and Puerto Rico, since such a difference would indicate a difference to assimilated indigenous peoples: the assimilation aspect of colonialism does not explain this difference.

It is rather the ideological aspect that also explains not only foreign relations, but also the lives of Cubans and Puerto Ricans living in the United States. The Cuban population is formed by those who departed Cuba the advent of Castro: these Cubans possess a resentment towards the government in Cuba. These immigrants were mainly of the middle class, thus leading to statistics such as the following: “in a socioeconomic profile Cubans emerge as the most advantaged, Puerto Ricans most disadvantaged.” (19) Puerto Rican immigration had a longer history than Cuban immigration: the former was an economic immigration as opposed to the ideological immigration of the latter.

Accordingly, understand the U.S. relation to Cuba and Puerto Rico, both internally and externally to U.S. borders, is impossible to grasp without an ideological element. The hostile geopolitical situation between U.S. and Cuba has both informed their international relations, as well as the ideological affiliations and class backgrounds of Cubans living in the U.S. The label of “Hispanic”, in other words, fails to capture the logic behind the difference of Cuban and Puerto Ricans to the U.S.: it is much better understood in terms of greater political ideologies, such as socialism and capitalism, and reactions to political projects such as colonialism.

  • Gonzalez, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. New York: Penguin, 2011.
  • Nelson, Candace & Tienda, Marta. The Structuring of Hispanic Ethnicity: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 1984.
  • Oboler, Suzanne. Ethnic Labels, Latino Lives: Identity and the Politics of (Re)Presentation in the United States. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.