• Puerto Rico is an island at the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea. Columbus “discovered” the island
during his second voyage in 1493. When the Spanish arrived, the native inhabitants, the Táino Indians,
were killed or fell prey to European diseases. The few who remained were absorbed into the conquering
• The cultural features of Puerto Rico remain those of Spain: the language is Spanish, and the religion is
predominantly Roman Catholic. Intermarriage and sexual unions have resulted in a varied racial
population ranging from completely white to completely black.
• Puerto Rico became a possession and territory of the United States in 1898 after the Spanish-American
War. However, its present political status was not clarified until 1952, when it became the
Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Today, Puerto Rico remains a Free Associated State, which is similar to a
U.S. state but without its rights and responsibilities. Puerto Rico is the only possession to have such a
• The beginning of rule by the United States quickly destroyed any hope that Puerto Ricans – or Boricas,
as Puerto Ricans call themselves—had for self-rule. All power was given to officials appointed by the
president, and any act of the island’s legislature could be overruled by Congress. English, previously
unknown to the island, became the only language permitted in the school system.
• In 1917, the Jones Act awarded U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans. In 1948, Puerto Ricans were finally
permitted to elect their governor, and in 1952 the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was created with a
constitution that was approved by the U.S. Congress. Those living in Puerto Rico have no vote in national
U.S. elections and no U.S. senators or House members; their only representative in Congress is a
Racial Construction in Puerto Rico
• The most significant difference between the meaning of race on Puerto Rico and the mainland is that
Puerto Rico, like so many other Caribbean societies, has a color gradient. The term color gradient
describes distinctions based on skin color made on a continuum rather than by sharp categorical
separations. The presence of a color gradient reflects past fusion between different groups.
• Rather than being either “black” or “white,” people are judged in such societies as “lighter” or
“darker” than others. Puerto Ricans perceive people as ranging from pale white to very black; they are
more sensitive to degrees of difference and make less effort to pigeonhole a person in one or two
• The presence of a color gradient does not necessarily mean that prejudice is less; generally, however,
societies with a color gradient permit more flexibility and therefore are less likely to impose specific sanctions against a group of people based on skin color alone. Puerto Rico has not suffered interracial
conflict or violence; its people are conscious of the different racial heritages.
• Racial identification in Puerto Rico depends a great deal on the attitude of the individual making the
judgment. If one thinks highly of a person, he or she may be seen as a member of a more acceptable
group. A variety of terms are used in the color gradient to describe people racially, including blanco
(white), prieto, Moreno, de color, and negro (black). Factors such as social class and social position
• In the late 1940s, Operation Bootstrap, a program designed by the Puerto Rican governor to bring
economic development by attracting U.S. corporations, was implemented. Lured by low wages and
exemption from taxation, 1,700 factories came to the island by 1975.
• Tax exemptions for most new industries left the burden of financing the public infrastructure on the
local population, resulting in a high income tax. Operation Bootstrap’s emphasis on industry and its
neglect of agricul