Puerto Rico’s history and society from the 20th Century unto today



Artists rendition of Puerto Rican flag (Free License)

One artist’s rendition of the Puerto Rican flag (above) depicts three red and two white stripes, with a white star on a triangle of blue. The flag takes this form, because Puerto Rico (PR) is a colony of the United States of America. PR is a place of strong and unique culture, and of a revolutionary struggle for independence in the face of systemic oppression. As Americans and people all over the world struggle for independence in the face of governmental abuse, the story of Puerto Rico is one which stands as a microcosm of global affairs.

“Puerto Rico’s native Taíno population—whose hunter-gatherer ancestors settled the island more than 1,000 years before the Spanish arrived—called it Borinquén, and referred to themselves as boricua (a term that is still used today).” (1)

    Puerto Rican culture has lively spirit, with unique dance and music, food and drink, language and ethnicity. Discovery of what it means to be Puerto Rican is an adventure in what it means to be alive and proud of it. One tradition signifies this the most, and that is dance. Bomba is a dance and a type of music which is unique to Puerto Rico as compared to its neighbors. The following 5-minute video shows Puerto Ricans practicing a longstanding tradition of Bomba. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E2RtucnhHWo.

    The next 5-minute video overviews several dances which occur at a local yearly festival. https://youtu.be/obqzdsZnns8. Jibaro (hee-bah-row) is one other dance seen in the video, and so is Salsa and a complicated dance called Plena (pleh-nah). Also on display in the video are a number of instruments that are used in the playing of PR’s traditional music. The Cuatro (below-left) is like a guitar and is the national instrument of PR.

     
Post introducing the Cuatro Guiro made in Puerto Rico
(Free License) (Free License)            

The guiro (above-right) is made from a, “gourd-like fruit of the higüero tree (Crescentia cujete) that is native to the region…A musical instrument of Pre-Columbian origin, it is played by scraping the carved ridges with the tines of a special pick or scraper.” The Maracas are a popular instrument in Puerto Rico, as is the Congo Drum (both below). (2) 


Maracas (Free License)

   
Congo Drum (Free License)    A man and woman wearing traditional
Puerto Rican clothing. (Free License)

PR is a place that loves to eat, as anywhere does. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan loves Pasties, so they should be excited to go to PR and try Pasteles. The following video depicts the creation of a Pastele, before the step of boiling them. https://youtu.be/ehAYJl8_8Fo


Charco Azul Swimming Hole (Credit: tripsavvy.com)

The best tourist attraction in PR seems to be unanimously approved by the internet. The winner of this contest is the Charco Azul Swimming Hole, which is essentially in the middle of nowhere in the southeastern part of the country. Those wanting to swim in the ocean instead would be very fortunate to visit Isabela, PR, and swim around the Coral Reef off its shore. (3) 


Underwater coral reef off the coast of Isabela, Puerto Rico (Credit: tripsavvy.com)

To dive into Puerto Rican culture would benefit from a tour of the New York style of poetry readings developed by PR youth in the Bronx, called Nuyorican Poetry. In 2018, David Quinones competed and took first place, at the Nuyorican Poets Café.  The following video revisits that performance. https://youtu.be/GnlmlGwQj0E

“Originally a pejorative term, “Nuyorican,” a mixture of “New York Puerto Rican” or “Neo-Rican,” was used by native Puerto Ricans to identify Puerto Ricans from New York City as distinct from those from the island. The Nuyorican movement, however, came to represent not only the struggles Puerto Ricans faced in working-class New York City, but also the pride they had in their language, culture, and Afro-Caribbean and indigenous Caribbean identities. While the poems decry the rampant discrimination they faced in schools and workplaces, the lack of economic opportunities, poor living conditions, and the general marginalization of their community, they also tell stories of rebellion, resistance, and endurance in the midst of these struggles.” (4)

    The current socio-political status of Puerto Ricans is equivalent to the Haitians before their revolution. The term Colony or Colonialism seem misplaced in our modern times, and yet the practice is still strong in Puerto Rico, to the benefit of rich white people who want to lounge in the sun all day, but to the detriment of native Puerto Ricans themselves. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but are not able to vote in a Presidential election. They do not pay federal taxes on their income, but they do lose a payroll tax from their wages, which in turn funds programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Earned Income Tax Credit, Medicaid and Supplemental Security Income, that many Puerto Ricans access, as about 44% of the population lives in destitute poverty. In spite of that need and its contribution, PR’s status as a territory means it receives less money to fund these programs than states themselves.

    Puerto Rico has made headlines globally and especially in the USA, where two recent pieces of legislation offer a way towards self-determination for all Puerto Rican people. Puerto Rican critics of the bill for Statehood say Puerto Ricans want more options such as full secession. Rich white advocates of Statehood have pointed to a vote that Puerto Ricans cast for Statehood, claiming that binds them to this process. Critics have returned fire lately, saying that the vote did not include other options and is unbinding regardless. Recently, the Biden Administration endorsed Populism by freeing about $8 billion for PR in disaster relief funds, but the fact remains that PR would have an easier time managing its debt if it were not excluded arbitrarily from the federal bankruptcy program.

    While PR is an island that many people have been forced by unalleviated disaster, to leave, those who remain have held fast to their convictions as revolutionaries, and many are unsatisfied with the conditions of modern enslavement they have been cast into from birth by default. To understand the fire of the spirit of Puerto Ricans, in short order, a great place to start looking at their history would be in reviewing the events of October 28, 1950.

“The Puerto Rican revolution began with a prison break. Over five hundred prisoners rioted and 110 of them managed to escape from El Oso Blanco penitentiary in Rio Piedras, to all corners of the island. Many of these prisoners were Nationalists.” (5) 

    The plan of the revolutionaries was to hold out against America, and to build up political pressure from other countries, that in the face of the plight of the revolution America would be forced to give up its colony willingly. (5)

“In addition to the revolts on the island, two Nationalists tried to kill President Harry Truman in Washington, D.C. Oscar Collazo and Griselio Torresola stormed the Blair House at 1651 Pennsylvania Avenue (where Truman was sleeping) while the White House was undergoing renovations.”(5)

One main leader of the resistance movement in PR was Rafael Cancel-Miranda, who died at the age of 89 on March 02, 2020. He was born on July 18th of 1930 in Mayaguez, PR, and joined the Nationalist movement at the tender age of 15.

On March 1, 1954, Rafael Cancel-Miranda, Lolita Lebron, Andres Figueroa, and Irvin Flores Rodriguez entered the U.S. Capitol building armed with automatic pistols to protest the colonial rule over Puerto Rico…As a result of this action, he was imprisoned in the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary for 25 years, a period in which his symbolic importance for the Puerto Rican independence movement acquired historical nuances.” (6) 

    One other noteworthy leader of the PR independence movement was Filaberto Ojeda Rios. His killing by the FBI at his house on September 23rd, 2005, the anniversary of an 1868 revolt on Spanish colonizers, sent shockwaves through PR communities at the time. Details of the way the case was handled caused a backlash that put PR faith in the government to an all time low. On the day of Rios’ death, FBI agents surrounded his house, and shot him to death. They were reported to have waited 20 hours before entering the home, which ensured the certainty of his death, as, “autopsy reports show that he bled to death from a gunshot wound to his shoulder.” Rios’ funeral was one of the largest funerals in Puerto Rican history. (7)

Sources

  1. https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/puerto-rico-history
  2. https://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/search/object/nmah_602447
  3. https://www.tripsavvy.com/isabela-puerto-rico-things-to-do-1622133
  4. https://poets.org/text/brief-guide-nuyorican-poetry
  5. https://waragainstallpuertoricans.com/the-revolution/
  6. https://www.telesurenglish.net/news/Puerto-Rico-Pro-Independence-Fighter-Cancel-Miranda-Dies-at-89-20200303-0004.html
  7. https://www.democracynow.org/2005/9/29/fbi_killing_of_puerto_rican_independence

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