The Historical Significance of Puerto Rico
For most of its history, Puerto Rico has been controlled by an outside power, and its people oppressed. While Puerto Rico is currently a U.S. territory, Spanish colonialism has had a significant impact on the island’s development and identity. The history of the island itself is proof of this fact, demonstrating each step Puerto Rico took to reach its current state. By examining the stages of Spanish control that Puerto Rico experienced, we can determine how each stage affected the structure and identity of Puerto Rico.
Before Spain invaded Puerto Rico, the native population known as the Taino inhabited it. At the beginning of the 1500’s, the Taino were conquered by the Spanish and, after a series of revolution attempts, virtually disappeared from Puerto Rican life. Those that were left fled to the interior of the island, which was, at that time, uninhabited. This part of the island became a refuge for the people who had fled from the approaching Spanish conquerors. This was the first stage in Puerto Rico’s development. Spain was the most dominant oppressor of Puerto Rico, and its occupation of the island resulted in many social and economic changes. The native people were marginalized, and Spain took over Puerto Rico in order to turn it into a productive colony. In addition to this, the presence of the Spaniards in Puerto Rico added a different ethnic group to the island’s native population. When the official slave trade began in 1518, African slaves were added to Puerto Rico’s mixed ethnic heritage. (Figueroa 9/22) According to "A Bicentennial Without a Puerto Rican Colony",
Unlike the United States, in Puerto Rico the different races mixed and intermingled to create the modern Puerto Rican, who is largely an asopao (stew) of many different races and hues. To the racist Spaniards' point of view, this intermingling created a "mongrel" race; but from the point of view of Puerto Rico, it began forming the cultural basis for nationhood. (Thomas 407-410)
Puerto Rico remained under Spanish control until 1898, but in the 1540’s, Spain discovered silver mines in Mexico and Peru. Puerto Rico was virtually abandoned, becoming a frontier zone. However, both the Spanish oppression and this new development resulted in the development of a kind of counter culture among the peasant population of Puerto Rico. Forced into labor, the peasants developed a passive, evasive attitude toward Spanish control. (Figueroa 9/24) A reflection of this can be seen in Francisco de Valle Atiles’s article "The Spiritual Life of the Jíbaro". According to Valle Atiles, "The speech of the peasant has the imperfections of those who never had any education; he still uses words that modern Spanish has forgotten, and the impurity and barbarism of his language are notorious. (Valle Atiles 95)" This describes the essence of the Puerto Rican peasant: poor, uneducated, and deemed inferior by his Spanish oppressors. However, the...