Postcards of Occupation

American Exceptionalism and the Politics of Form
  • Donette Francis


Domini can-American writer Nelly Rosario begins her 2002 novel Song of the Water Saints with an archival engagement: the opening scene stages a reenactment of the colonial postcard that pictures an unknown tropical island dating circa 1900. The postcard shows a naked copper-toned adolescent couple sitting on a Victorian couch, framed by cardboard Egyptian pottery, a stuffed wild tiger, a toy drum, and glazed coconut trees. The boy is muscular, his penis lies flaccid, and the girl lying against him is fully exposed save the hair that covers one breast, “an orchid blooms on her cheek … and an American prairie looms behind them in dull oils.”1 As an optic of imperialism, this is not a pastoral scene. The youths’ copper skin and the coconut trees evoke the anonymous tropics, the Victorian couch signals European grandeur, and the wild tiger and toy drum conj ure feral African primitivism. The “American prairie” backdrop superimposes a domestic narrative of Westward expansion and Manifest Destiny onto the Caribbean region.2 By the turn of the twentieth century, the landscape of the American West was largely exhausted, therefore, the ability of the American photographer-citizen to “capture” the wild savagery of this Caribbean “wilderness” makes the region and its people available to the United States as a territorial possession.3 President Theodore Roosevelt’s Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine expresses such a sentiment, which mandates the “reluctant interference” by the United States whenever the government of one of its southern-island neighbors exhibits “an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society” (excerpt from the “Roosevelt-Corollary,” emphasis mine).


Sexual Desire Dominican Republic Executive Order Military Occupation Dominican Woman 
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© Donette Francis 2010

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  • Donette Francis

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