American Nationalist: Ruth Reynolds and the Struggle Against U.S. Colonialism in Puerto Rico

Lisa Materson
UC Davis

‘American Nationalist’ combines a feminist biography of Ruth Reynolds (1916-1989) with a microhistory of her activist communities to examine the gendered and transnational history of the Puerto Rican independence movement. While scholars have extensively documented diverse liberation movements in the United States, the battle for Puerto Rico’s independence has not received the same attention. Reynolds was a North American civil rights and free India activist who challenged traditional gender roles; a confidant of Puerto Rico’s most controversial independence figure, Nationalist Party leader Pedro Albizu Campos; and a living repository of Nationalist Party history following Albizu Campos’ death. Her story is largely unknown, a symptom of both the marginalization of Puerto Rico—its politics and status debates—in U.S. political history, and the centering of men’s experiences in liberation politics history. This project employed her story, which spanned activist communities and generations in North America and the Caribbean, to illuminate the wide-ranging voices that shaped this movement and endeavored to construct its memory. The project highlighted historical contests over U.S. citizenship, gendered strategies of political mobilization, and the interplay among archive creation, political memory, and historical production.