As an inchoate middle class emerged in Puerto Rico in the early nineteenth century, its members sought to control not only public space, but also the people, activities, and even attitudes that filled it. Their instruments were the San Juan town council and the Casa de Beneficencia, a state-run charitable establishment charged with responsibility for the poor.
In this book, Teresita Martínez-Vergne explores how municipal officials and the Casa de Beneficencia shaped the discourse on public and private space and thereby marginalized the worthy poor and vagrants, "liberated" Africans, indigent and unruly women, and destitute children. Drawing on extensive and innovative archival research, she shows that the men who comprised the San Juan ayuntamiento and the board of charity regulated the public discourse on topics such as education, religious orthodoxy, hygiene, and family life, thereby establishing norms for "correct" social behavior and chastising the "deviant" lifestyles of the working poor.
This research clarifies the ways in which San Juan's middle class defined itself in the midst of rapid social and economic change. It also offers new insights into notions of citizenship and the process of nation-building in the Caribbean.
By Teresita Martínez-Vergne
A native of Puerto Rico, Teresita Martínez-Vergne is Associate Professor of History and Coordinator of Latin American Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.