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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .


Identity and Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the Challenge of Ethnicity
Josť E Cruz

(Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998)
278pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: $59.95; ISBN 1-56639-604-2. Pb.: $22.95; ISBN 1-56639-605-0.



Using the case study of the Puerto Rican experience in Hartford, Connecticut, from 1983-1991, the author of this book attempts to describe political mobilization as an expression of what he calls, "identity politics." According to the author, the aim of the book is to analyze "...how Puerto Ricans used ethnicity to tackle adversity and exploit opportunities to channel the energy created by the bonds of identity into the pursuit of political enfranchisement" (p. xi).

Relying upon his own personal experience as a Puerto Rican migrant to Hartford, Connecticut, as well as his recent doctoral research in the city, the author offers a highly detailed chronicle of what can be viewed as the recent Puerto Rican experience in Hartford. He states that similar to the experience of other recent migrants, ethnicity structured his experience in Hartford in both positive and negative ways. In his case, however, he asserts that "otherness has been my ticket into mainstream society" (p. xi).

For author Jose Cruz, "identity politics" can be defined as "the move from ethnic awareness to power awareness, and from interests to an interest group" (p. 10). Therefore, the emphasis is on group, rather than individual claims. In contrast with the conventional view of "identity politics" that emphasizes its inevitable effects of separatism, victimization, and instability, Cruz argues that the recent Puerto Rican experience in Hartford illustrates exactly the opposite. Based on his research, Cruz concludes that as a result of "identity politics," Puerto Ricans become "incorporated," which he understands as the process of entering society and politics. Thus for Cruz, the recent Puerto Rican experience in Hartford is an example of the process of empowerment, where ethnicity, or "identity politics," played a dominant role.

The focus for most of the book is the detailed analysis of the Puerto Rican Political Action Committee of Connecticut (PRPAC) from 1983-1991, particularly the actions of its prominent leader, Edwin Vargas Jr.. For Cruz, the PRPAC during recent decades epitomizes his interpretation of identity politics. With a combination of demographic growth, leadership development, and an intense organizational drive that rallied around the idea of ethnicity and group interests, the PRPAC are able to make significant gains to positions of political power in Hartford. Yet, as the author notes, the experience of the PRPAC shows that the relationship between access to power and socio-economic gains is not always positively correlated. This basic paradox of political life later generates disillusionment and dissention among the Puerto Rican community in Hartford.

Finally, a major criticism with this book is the fact that at times it reads too much like a doctoral dissertation, which of course it is based upon. While the theoretical tangents and reference reviews by others in his field are interesting and relevant to his argument at times, the book would be a lot more coherent and compelling if many of these had been left in the dissertation. Overall however, the book offers an interesting case study, and broadens our understanding of identity politics and urban mobilization.


Heather McPhail,
Inter-American Development Bank




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