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September 1, 2006

Puerto Rico, Past , Present, and "Future"

By Carlos T Mock


Part 1-A Brief History of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is the smallest and easternmost of the Greater Antilles; discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and claimed by Spain until 1898. We became a United States colony as part of the loot of the Spanish-American war of 1898. Our cities are built in the traditional Spanish Colonization style with a Church and City Hall in the central square and the rest of town radiating out from that. The focus of the town was the church; the focus of the Spanish was the Christianization of the barbarians.

On April 12, the Foraker Law (Organic Act of 1900) was approved, establishing civil government and free commerce between the Island and the US. Puerto Rico thus became the first US unincorporated territory.

On March 2,1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Jones Act and Puerto Rico became a territory of the United States – "organized but unincorporated." A bill of rights was created which, among other things, established a locally elected Senate and House of Representatives elected by the Puerto Rican citizenry with elections held every four years. In addition, it granted Puerto Ricans U.S. statutory citizenship, which means that we were granted citizenship by act of Congress, not by the Constitution and citizenship is therefore not guaranteed by it. As citizens, they were allowed to join the army; only 300 rejected the citizenship and many others refused to join the army. During World War I, over 18,000 Puerto Ricans served in the US armed forces.

On July 4, 1951, the "Law 600" was passed, giving Puerto Rico the right to establish a government with a proper constitution.

On March 3, 1952, the flag of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was officially adopted - based on a flag designed by a group of patriots in the year 1895.

On July 25, 1952, (Puerto Rican voters in a referendum approved the New Constitution in March) Puerto Rico was proclaimed as the freely associated Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. (Estado Libre Asociado)

1953 The largest migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States mainland occurred, with 69,124 emigrating (mostly to New York, New Jersey and Florida).

Law Number 1 of 1993 declares both English and Spanish as the official languages of Puerto Rico.

Politics & Culture

Politics is a sport.

We do not vote in the presidential elections and have only non-voting representation in the congress; however we do not pay federal income taxes because of that whole "taxation without representation" thing. The last election saw a 92% turnout and that is normal for the island. Of the population, 48% favor statehood, 47% favor commonwealth (status quo) & 5% favor independence. Every family can claim at least one member of each of the three ideologies and thus politics is seldom discussed at family gatherings. In the 2004 elections, the New Progressive Party (which favors statehood) won both the Senate and the House of Representatives by wide margins. It also won the Resident Commissioner. (Our representative in Congress that has a voice but no vote). The Popular Democratic Party won the Governorship by a margin of 3500 votes with over two million votes cast. Many Pro Independence voters crossed over to prevent a Pro statehood sweep.

We speak Spanish at home but commence bilingual (English) education as soon as we go to school. We think in Spanish and then translate to English. Prepositions cannot be translated; we are always using the wrong one. Most other Latinos claim we do not pronounce the R's (Using L instead) or the final S (they become silent).

The population is 95% Catholic. The Church is strong with a fundamental Christian base to the morals of the culture. In 1964, the Catholic Bishops formed a political party and threatened excommunication for anyone who didn't join their party. Abortion was illegal (until Roe v. Wade) and homosexuality was illegal until the Supreme Court Lawrence decision. Machismo is the norm -women are secondary and subservient to males. Gay men are well below women in the social structure, where homosexuality is generally equated only with drag queens and effeminate men.

Race is a very quiet, but hot, issue. The original Indian population, the "Tainos", was almost wiped out by the Spanish. The Spanish then introduced slaves in the 16th century to work in the sugarcane plantations as the Indian work force died off. The white masters mixed with the black slaves thus we have a large mulatto population. Everyone has some African mixture, but the more you have, the more you seem to deny it.

Part 2 –What is a Puerto Rican?

After 23 years of living in the USA, I am getting tired of questions like do you have a green card? Is Puerto Rico a real country? What is the currency in Puerto Rico? I decided it is time to set the record straight! The funny thing sometimes I can't help but ask, "Really, what is a Puerto Rican?"

When I was growing up in San Juan, PR, I always thought that a Puerto Rican was someone who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up there, spoke Spanish and was forced to learn English-just because we were part of the USA. We were all loud and loved rice and beans (red, not black), we danced to "salsa" and "merengue", and played politics like a contact sport. We were ruled by the three dogmas of the Puerto Rican Culture: Machismo, Religion, and Family.

After living in the United States for the past 23 years, I have become confused. I have met Puerto Ricans here who have never visited the Island, who speak no Spanish, have no idea of our history and culture-yet they "feel" they are Puerto Ricans. How can this be?

Puerto Ricans are-like any other Latin American race-very nationalistic. I learned at a very young age that Nationalism has no rhyme or reason. Latinos are very proud of their culture and we each have a unique and beautiful heritage. To explain how someone's sense of nationality survives in spite of never being in their homeland, never learning the language, and never voting in a Puerto Rican election (including the caravanas of 100 cars with loud speakers), we must look at these individuals as they interact with the larger habitat-The United States of America. Everything is magnified so that Puerto Ricans in the US are responding to the major sins of the "Evil Empire": Racism, and Colonialism.

I have always heard of how bad things are in Puerto Rico. Everything is magnified so that Puerto Rico is very much controlled by the whims of the larger US market. There were two major immigration droves to the USA, both of which were initiated by Puerto Ricans "looking for a better life" after a downturn in the local economy.

In 1953, the largest migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States mainland occurred, with 69,124 emigrating (mostly to New York, New Jersey and Florida). This entailed mostly unskilled workers who quickly took all the concierge, maid, and gardener positions-unwanted jobs at the time. It resulted in the first big realization of how un-accepting the US mainstream culture was to these pioneers and their tragic experiences were immortalized in the work by Pedro Juan Soto-SPIKS, a collection of short stories (published originally in Spanish by Editorial Cultural in Puerto Rico in 1956-translated into English in 1973 by the Monthly Review Press.)

The second large immigration was in the 70's and the 80's and was called the brain drain-doctors, lawyers, architects, wealthy merchants, tired of the Puerto Rican government's mismanagement and corruption, crime, and overcrowding, left in droves. A funny thing happened-due to the color of their skin and their accent-they were greeted with a similarly horrendous racist backlash. They were rejected by the African American community because of their language and their skin color-"café con leche"-yet, they were also rejected by the Whites, for the same reason. Some returned to Puerto Rico, and the ones who stayed in the USA formed a community where they could feel safe. They moved to the same neighborhoods-mainly the warmer climates of Florida and the southwest, and for some unknown reason Chicago-and resisted assimilation into the US culture. My mother, who is a very strong pro-statehood fanatic refuses to move to the United States because she "has" to pray her rosary in Spanish. I, on the other hand have been here since 1983 and could never go back to live in Puerto Rico. The institutionalized bureaucracy would drive me nuts.

Meanwhile, on the Island, the issue of status became a hot potato. In 1968, Luis A. Ferré was elected governor under the New Progressive Party that favored statehood as a solution to the status of Puerto Ricans. Since then, the Popular Democratic Party controlled island politics by offering "commonwealth" as the way to associate with the US-thus selling out the dreams of an Independent Puerto Rico. It meant that we would share currency, citizenship, and defense with the US, but were able to keep all the other aspects of our nationality-we would participate as Puerto Ricans in the Olympic Games, and in the Miss Universe Pageant (where a Puerto Rican has won four times since the contest started).

The electoral victory of Luis Ferré and the possibility of "loosing" our country and identity gave a boost to our quest for defending the Puerto Rican culture. The idea of assimilating our culture with that of the United States made every single election since 1968 a referendum on status. The 2004 election for governor of Puerto Rico was won by a margin of 3000 votes (out of a total of two million votes cast) by the pro-commonwealth candidate Luis Acevedo Vila with both legislatures controlled by the opposition party.

Every family can claim at least one member of each of the three ideologies (statehood, commonwealth, and independence) and thus politics is seldom discussed at family gatherings. The idea that we may be assimilated by the larger US has strengthened our desire to remain Puerto Rican, thus helping the Puerto Ricans who live in the States to "feel" Puerto Rican whether they have ever been there or not-whether they speak Spanish or not. If Puerto Rico were ever to achieve statehood, the indigenous culture would be threatened and we would do everything possible to save it.

The Jones Act of 1917 granted Puerto Ricans U.S. statutory citizenship–we are not concerned about immigration problems like the rest of the Latinos in the United States. However, because it was an act of congress that gave us our citizenship, another act of congress could take it away. This will some day need to be resolved by the courts, because the constitution of the United States does not guarantee our citizenship. This could explain why, our language, heritage, skin color, and culture form a bond between all the other Latinos in the US.

So, what is a Puerto Rican? There are 3.8 million Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico and about the same spread all over the United States. Your guess is as good as mine.

Part 3-Después de la Revolución (After the Revolution)

Independence Day in the Republic of Puerto Rico! The Puerto Rican National Army is marching out to El Morro Castle to the tune of La Borinqueña, the national anthem. The newly elected president of the republic is content. It was a long hard battle but he won and the island would be better off for trusting in him.

It had been his logic from the very beginning to prey on the fears of the people. The fear that they would lose their American citizenship if Puerto Rico suddenly became independent. Everyone knew that their citizenship was by writ of Congress and not a guaranteed right. Everyone knew it could be taken away at a whim. And half the population of the island had not wanted to gamble on the future of the new republic. That was fine, actually perfect. Because, overnight, The President had solved the housing and unemployment problems that had been plaguing the island for generations by nationalizing all the property that had been abandoned.

An Army? Why? He was delighted that the war on terrorism was going so badly in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, South Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Tibet, Myanmar, and the United Kingdom. With every country's armies so busy, no one would be bothering his lovely paradise. He assured himself no one would ever bomb any part of the Island-a thing the Citizens if Vieques were ecstatic about.

He was happy about how easy it was to drive around the island. It reminded him of the days before Operation Bootstrap when the roads were safe and there were no car jacking or road rage. Even his wife had started enjoying driving again!

He was also happy that Haliburton had decided to leave Puerto Rico for good. They were too expensive and all they ever did was pollute the natural beauty of the Island. Besides, there was too much overcrowding. El presidente wanted to destroy the excess housing that was not needed anymore and plant trees.

Finally, he is happy because now he has given a new identity to all those poor souls who have been wandering around the USA and the rest of the world not knowing what a Puerto Rican was. He was proud because he had given his people a home and their identity back.

Submitters Website:

Submitters Bio:
Travel website: The Pink Agenda. Several Blogs. Weekly newsletter, available upon request. Publications - Fiction: Borrowing Time: A Latino Sexual Odyssey - Floricanto Press 2003. Poetry: The Refined Savage Poetry Review - Refined Savage Editions; Unfinished Works - AIDS Services Foundation – Orange County December 2005; Fingernails Across the Chalkboard Gwendolyn Brooks Center December 2006
Non-Fiction: "Queer History viewed through the eyes of Literature and my favorite books as I live my Latino Odyssey" Universidad Pedagógica Nacional. May, 2006. Unfinished Works Published by AIDS Services Foundation "HIV From the Puerto Rican Perspective"– Orange County December 2005. Watch for his forthcoming book - "Mosaic Virus"