Puerto Rico is part of the Greater Antilles, a group of islands that include Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispañola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic), comprising about 90% of the West Indies (a collection of islands in the Caribbean that have nothing to do with India. They were named the West Indies because when Christopher Columbus arrived on Hispañola, he thought that he was in India).
Puerto Rico is a Latin American colonial possession that first declared its nationality on September 23, 1868, under Spanish colonial rule. The United States took possession of Puerto Rico at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War in 1898, but never granted it freedom. Instead, Puerto Rico remained a colonial subject under a new sovereign ruler. The US territory was given the title of Free Associated State in 1952, with a set of rules in the form of a constitution drafted and voted on as the population was under a statewide gag order, forbidden to speak of independence.
But even under the great influence of mixed US military, media, and trade protections and impositions, the people managed to create and preserve their nationality through the culture. That resiliency also transcended its geographic origins, as the nation blossomed beyond the commonwealth, throughout the diaspora, past oceans of time and space, leaving an unusually bright mark in the universe.
In the backdrop of massive land sales and industrialization, Puerto Rico’s cultural heritage is a story of rebellion, resistance, and rebirth that has resonated throughout the cosmos. And that story is composed by people from all walks of life that can trace their roots to the indigenous Taino, West African slaves, and Spanish colonists, with a mix of traders, pirates, the Catholic Church, and other Europeans in the archipelago’s history. Their unique experience and history, from San Juan, to low Earth orbit, is told through culture.
A Puerto Rican once sang, “Que Bonita Bandera”, while orbiting the planet at 17,000 miles per hour. It is a privilege and honor for us to explore the connections through the arts, literature, history, and social movements of the Puerto Rican nation to see why a person would do that. Cultural heritage is what connects indigenous Taíno, Africans, and Spaniards through colonial rule, piracy, slave trade, and industrial development, to NASA astronaut Joseph M. Acaba, and so many other unique Boricuas in the universe.
The Puerto Rico story is indeed epic in scope, relative to its geographic origins. No matter how small the islands appear on the map, the universe is brighter because of Puerto Rico’s distinct style, voice, and passion for life.
From the days the Spaniards invaded and colonized the native Taínos, through the Euro-American Slave Trade, to El Grito de Lares revolt of 1868, through all the piracy that came before and after, to El Grito de Jayuya revolt, to stopping the US Navy from using Vieques as target practice, to the Summer of 2019 revolt that ousted the colonial governor, and through all the movements in between, there is a distinct culture and national affirmation that connects the dots. We are honored to preserve, nurture, and add to the boricua enterprise.
Despite overwhelming challenges, the Puerto Rican story continues to unfold today. As with all nations around the world, politics seeps into the culture, the arts, and into the blood of the people — as it should. However, through our history, we can easily identify a sense of never-ending struggle as a recurring theme; “la lucha”. That constant battle for survival is not always healthy, nor conducive to growth. Struggle is good, so long as it is followed by growth and true progress. That development and prosperity, whether as a person, or a nation, is often marked by a resurgence of spirit, and a major shift in attitude, or policy. This growth is what opens new doors, new chapters, new possibilities, and new levels of evolution.
That is what we see in the national culture, as with most countries in the world: a constant push forward, “pa’lante”, toward a better world for ourselves, and a greater life filled with new discoveries.
From Luisa Capetillo to Jennifer Lopez, from Ramón Emeterio Betances to Bruno Mars, Puerto Rican history and culture trails behind them all like a comet across the heavens.
We look forward to seeing you at our events, programs, workshops, and library, and join in the conversation on Facebook and Instagram. Thank you.