American Subjects or Citizens?

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This photo essay depicts life in Puerto Rico, one of America's newest territories. The photographer captured images from the street of market peddlers and coffee hullers, livestock and trade. Courtesy of The New York Public Library.

American imperialism involved more than the politicians, soldiers, businesses, and patriots who designed the empire in their favor. US imperial policies posed deeper questions about the concept of the citizen.

How far did the Constitution follow the flag?

For the millions of men and women in Puerto Rico, Hawaii, and the Philippines who suddenly found themselves living on American soil, one question prevailed: What new opportunities did life in America's empire allow? This section investigates how Hawaiians, Puerto Ricans, and Filipinos staked their claim in the American empire. They did not enjoy the full rights and privileges allotted to American citizens. Nevertheless, these individuals navigated courses across the Pacific and Caribbean in search of agency and opportunity. The stories featured here are exceptional, representing the lives of the privileged few. Taken together, however, they reveal how native peoples fashioned themselves as American citizens.