Puerto Rican Identity and Spanish Colonial Rule
The debate on Puerto Rican Identity is a hot bed of controversy, especially in today’s society where American colonialism dominates most of the island’s governmental and economic policies. The country wrestles with the strong influence of its present day colonizers, while it adamantly tries to retain aspects of the legacy of Spanish colonialism. Despite America’s presence, Puerto Ricans maintain what is arguably their own cultural identity which seems largely based on the influence of Spain mixed with customs that might have developed locally.
The features of the formation of the Puerto Rican people under Spanish rule are therefore critical in addressing questions on Puerto Rican identity. The migration of thousands of Spaniards both from the mainland and its islands to Puerto Rico, the development of subsequent Creole populations, the formation of the agricultural sectors and their labor needs are some of the contributing features that will hopefully lead toward a better understanding of the complexities that surround the concept of Puertoricaness.
The early years of Spanish rule began with the gradual development of a settler society as well as the native Taino Indians. The Taino population was soon drastically reduced and the structure of this society, diversified with the introduction of African Slave laborers. Race is therefore a core element in the discussion of the Puerto Rican identity. The early settlers came from Europe in search of riches that were soon diminished and therefore a natural need for other economic means had to be developed by the people who decided to remain behind. Some of the people who remained in Puerto Rico were coerced into doing so because of laws, and others might have been criminals who were serving sentences as the island was also used by Spain as a penal colony.(Figueroa, Sept '98).
Puerto Rico’s early economic development under Spanish rule was characterized by the creation of settlements particularly in the interior of the island where the land was used for cattle rearing and farming. (Figueroa lecture Sept.'98) By the late 1550’s to early 1600’s the meager agricultural sector did not develop and therefore was not sustainable as there were not enough contact with international traders. (Scarano, 4) The sector was also stifled by the royal trade restriction that Spanish colonies could only trade with the mother land. Furthermore, most of the Crown’s attention was focused on the recently discovered gold and silver mines in Mexico and Peru. Puerto Rico at this stage became some what of a frontier society at the margins of the Spanish colonial empire. (Figueroa Sept.'98) While other Caribbean countries had experimented and had began to develop their mass sugar cultivation, Puerto Rico, for the most part, remained a racially mixed peasant society. (Scarano, 5) The influence of their neighboring islands was not far off, and the introduction of African...