Date of Completion


Embargo Period



U.S. citizenship, citizenship, Critical Race Theory, interest-convergence, Insular Cases, Cold War, U.S. territories, unincorporated territories

Major Advisor

Charles Venator-Santiago

Associate Advisor

Jane Gordon

Associate Advisor

Fred Lee

Field of Study

Political science


Doctor of Philosophy

Open Access

Open Access


This dissertation examines U.S. citizenship legislation in the U.S. Pacific unincorporated territories through Critical Race Theory’s interest-convergence thesis. I employ Derrick Bell’s theory of interest-convergence to argue that it is only when economic, cultural, political, and social interests converge to benefit the United States that U.S. lawmakers have enacted legislation to extend citizenship to the Pacific unincorporated territories (Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands). I also rely on Mary Dudziak’s use of interest-convergence, which she used to explain the implementation of key social reforms of the Civil Rights Movement, such as desegregation, as a model setting up my research design. Bell and Dudziak used interest-convergence to explain how advances for Black Americans and other oppressed races during the Civil Rights Movement (e.g. the Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education) were used as propaganda by the United States in its struggle against the Soviet Union and communist political philosophy during the Cold War. The passage of civil rights legislation allowed the United States to project an image of the moral superiority of its democratic, capitalist system of government on the global stage, in response to foreign (especially Soviet) criticism of American racial discrimination and White supremacy. In my dissertation, I demonstrate that changes in citizenship status for the Pacific unincorporated territories were meant to benefit the United States’ interest in being perceived as the world leader of democracy, equality and fairness, and not for a genuine concern and sympathy of the well-being and desires of the inhabitants of the territories. Instead, I argue that the normative valuations associated with citizenship were “weaponized” by U.S. lawmakers as propaganda against the Soviet Union to promote the United States’ image throughout the world. Furthermore, when the interests of the United States and the Pacific unincorporated territories diverge, I contend that “progressive” citizenship legislation will not be enacted, which explains why Samoans are still non-citizen nationals while still owing their allegiance to the United States and existing under its authority.

By applying interest-convergence to the legal histories of the Pacific unincorporated territories, I hope to accomplish three primary goals with this dissertation: (1) demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of how to apply interest-convergence as a research methodology; (2) expand the use of interest-convergence to outside the context of how Black Americans were treated during the Civil Rights Movement by analyzing how “Polynesians” were governed in the Pacific unincorporated territories through U.S. citizenship legislation; and (3) to offer a counter-narrative to romanticized theories that promote the idea that citizenship in the United States developed in a linear, increasingly progressive, manner, in which it is argued that the United States has managed to fully overcome its past history of exclusionary practices regarding eligibility for equal citizenship. The extension, or lack thereof, of U.S. citizenship to the Pacific unincorporated territories challenges progressive, mythologized understandings of the development of citizenship in the United States.