Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by virtue of the Jones Act of 1917. As American citizens they can travel freely to and from the mainland. The exploitation of the island’s natural resources since the U.S. intervention caused the overpopulated island’s economy to deplete and as a result, thousands of Puerto Ricans have emigrated to the U.S.
From the time of their inception into the mainland --dating back to the 1960s-- Puerto Ricans have experienced adjustment issues in the new society. They continue to face ethnic, racial and religious prejudice in the American society. A new Puerto Rican has emerged in the mainland, especially in New York City, where there has a large concentration of people of Puerto Rican descent.
A pressing matter for Puerto Ricans in the United States is that of their identity. With what they identify in terms of culture and ancestry has been a major source of debate among Puerto Ricans.
When they arrived in the mainland, Puerto Ricans interactions with Black people in the United States have been the prominent and much of the ethnic literature that emerged from New York reveals the group’s affinity with African Americans. This kinship was strengthened by the groups’ socioeconomic positions and struggles, and a similarity in racial background among some of the first Puerto Ricans who emigrated to the mainland. A rich racial mixture of mulattos, whites and blacks characterizes Puerto Rico.
Roberto Santiago’s essay, “Black and Latino,” encapsulates much of the inner conflict that some Puerto Ricans in the U.S. experience in regard to their skin color, and their African and Latino cultural heritage. It tells the story of how a young boy came to understand this country’s attitudes toward people of color, and how that boy, now an adult (the author) finds no harm in identifying himself as both Black and Puerto Rican.
In most of the literature accompanying this unit, the reader will find an underlying theme surrounding the issue of Puerto Rican identity: Are Puerto Ricans black or white because of their skin? Do Puerto Ricans have an American culture? These are only some of the questions that the literature poses.
Puerto Ricans of all colors and ancestry would say that they are just Puerto Ricans. The most telling fact about Puerto Rican culture in the U.S. is its emphasis on difference, and most notably, on the distinction between cultures of colonial peoples and that of imperialist society.
Some of the American Puerto Rican literature reflects the influence of North American culture in a special mixture with the elements of the Latin American and Caribbean cultures.
Students will see that for Puerto Ricans, cultural identification supersedes everything else. The poem “Ending Poem” by Rosario Morales and Auroa Levins Morales contains a special blend that characterize Puerto Rican identity in the U.S. The poem reveals an inner struggle to find a concrete classification in terms of cultural and historical identity. The Morales (mother and daughter) reject any preconceived category and search for their own definition of who they are. Other writers that will be studied under this unit, refer to a lack of identity among Puerto Ricans, an idea furbished by the establish cannons of the dominant society.
“Ending Poem” encapsulates the complexities of being Puerto Rican: it can mean island-born and of a Hispanic tradition, but it can also mean North American, Jewish, inner city, country or poor. The poem also reveals elements of African, Amerindian and European roots, without necessarily wanting to be exclusive of any of them.