News: What You Need To Know About Puerto Rico’s Black History
While Puerto Ricans are unapologetic in their pride, some tend to downplay their African ancestry. The truth is, Puerto Rico as we know it wouldn’t exist without the cultural influences of African tribes.
Like many countries in the West Indies and the Americas, Puerto Rico’s history began with colonization. Colonized by Spain in the 15th century, Puerto Rico was valuable to the Spaniards because of its natural resources and gold The Spaniards brought enslaved Africans to Puerto Rico to work in the gold mines and sugar cane fields.
The native people living in Puerto Rico, the Taino, were resistant to colonizers. Though they were also enslaved, they knew the land and were often able to escape to remote villages. They were also slowly wiped out by diseases and starvation as colonizers forced them to work in mines.
Africans, however, were forced to adapt and assimilate to Spanish culture. Separated from their homeland, culture, and languages, they learned the Spanish language, taught it to their children, converted to Christianity and adopted Spanish last names in attempts to survive the constant trauma of slavery.
Even though Africans assimilated to the Spanish culture, they still found ways of keeping their own traditions intact. Such methods include syncretizing African religions with Christianity and infusing their languages with Spanish The Spaniards eventually intermarried with Blacks and the Taino. These unions produced the first generation of Puerto Ricans.
Bozal Spanish, a creole language that is a mix of Congo and Portuguese languages, is no longer spoken on the island. On the other hand, African influences are still present in the music and the food.
Bomba and Plena music derive from African music. Enslaved Africans used music to escape their problems and communicate with others in the surrounding islands.
Some Puerto Ricans suppressed their African ancestry as a survival tactic. After the passage of the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans began to immigrate to the U.S. Afro-Puerto Ricans were immediately considered Black and faced discrimination.
Segregation, like in the U.S., also happened in Puerto Rico. The U.S. segregated military units and that same segregation and discrimination filtered in other areas of life for Puerto Ricans. To avoid discrimination, most Puerto Ricans claimed to be white or biracial during the U.S. Census.
Racism still continues in Puerto Rico today. It ‘s been brought to the forefront in the wake of 2017’s Hurricane Maria. President Donald Trump’s response to the disaster reflected the racist attitudes that continue on from the U.S.’ acquirement of Puerto Rico after the Spanish-American War.
Even the way resources are distributed reflect these racist ideals. White and affluent neighbours that were not hit as hard by the hurricane received more resources than Black neighbourhoods that were devastated.