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The Identity Of A Black Puerto Rican

1294 words - 5 pages

The Identity of a Black Puerto Rican

When the United States invaded and took over Puerto Rico in 1898, race relations acquired yet another facet. "At the beginning of the century, President McKinley carried out military interventions in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines with U.S. corporate interests in mind (Schirmer)" Like Spain, the United States also intended to use Puerto Rico to its own advantage. In his project, David Bernstein states, "The United States used its power to restrict Puerto Rican trade, from which Whites in America and Puerto Rico prosperred heavily. Black and other non-White Puerto Ricans were exploited under both colonial regimes." However, the overt racism in the United States widened the gap between races even further than Spanish colonization had. Unlike in Puerto Rico, there was a strong sense of discrimination in the United States. This discrimination separated those with different colored skin, regardless of background and social status. Ferré often speaks of the prestige of class during US colonization, saying at one point:

At those moments they were very conscious of what they wore, and realized that wearing a genuine pearl necklace or carrying an authentic alligator bag on your arm made a difference when you stepped into an elegant hotel lobby, especially when one "came from down South".(Ferre 25)

In other words, the rich Puerto Ricans began to realize that because of their skin color, which was often darker than what was accepted as white, would force them to be fitted to the same stereotype as the non-whites in the mainland United States, and sought for a way to preserve their identity. In Puerto Rico, where the Spanish invasion caused a racial mixing of the island’s inhabitants, and the ones considered superior were the people who had the most political and economic power. Now categorized as inferior by the United States, the Puerto Rican elites responded by developing their own racial identity, based on the myth of the white, racially pure jíbaro. The elites had long shunned the real jíbaro in the past, but the United States’ racism caused them to form their own racial identity, fictitious as it was. An example of this in The House on the Lagoon involves Buenaventura and his constant referrals to his peasant roots. He said to Isabel,"People from Extremadura are primitive and hardy.(Ferre 211)" This is a clear example of result of American influence on the elites in Puerto Rico. The glorification of the jíbaro provided a means of justifying their importance. According to Guerra:

By re-creating a jíbaro whose simplicity, dedication, and purity of thought and deed they appreciated, intellectuals mythically shaped a new identity for themselves and their society out of the very cultural material with which they had traditionally felt empowered. That is, because the jíbaro’s whiteness, spiritual sanctity, and Hispanic cultural roots resonated with those aspects of themselves that their status...

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