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A Brief History of Puerto Rico
2005-08-01

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By Carlos Mock

After 23 years of living in the U.S., 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!

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 U.S. Puerto Rico thus became the first U.S. 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 U.S. 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 )

On Nov. 4, 1952, Luis Muñoz Marín was re-elected governor to his second 4-year term, with 64.9% of the vote.

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 3,500 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.

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.

Puerto Ricans are like any other Latin American race—very nationalistic. For example, it might be an insult to call a Puerto Rican either Dominican or Cuban and vice-versa. To help explain: Cubans took many jobs from Puerto Ricans with the mass exodus in 1959 when they were fleeing Castro. Dominicans are currently entering the country illegally and are usually employed in the service industry taking more jobs away from the locals in a tough economy. In a normal economy, and it's worse when things are bad, much of Puerto Rican business is 'under the table'. So, the issue of valid citizenship in employment is easily circumvented. It is said: 'when the U.S. sneezes, Puerto Rico gets pneumonia'. Meaning, when the economy turns sour, the island is kicked in the ass. Everything is magnified so that Puerto Rico is very much controlled by the whims of the larger U.S. market. Which explains some of the love/hate relationship that exists with the U.S. Of course, economics isn't the only reason that you have to be careful with nationality. It goes much deeper than that in a way that is completely unexplainable. Latinos/as are very proud of our culture and we each have a unique and beautiful heritage. To lazily lump everyone into a generic 'Hispanic' label is to disregard that we are unique human beings.


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