History Bits: Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States located in the Caribbean. Known as the smallest island of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico is only 100 miles long and 35 miles wide. Although many people think Puerto Rico is an island, in reality it is an archipelago, which includes the main island, Culebra, Mona, Vieques, and several islets. Nevertheless, it is widely known as an island.

Map of Puerto Rico. C.C. License

Below is kid-friendly information about Puerto Rico's history, culture, traditions, and food followed by a children's book list about Puerto Rico. Don't hesitate to ask me any questions and comment.

Puerto Ricans and Boricuas

The Spanish conquistadores (conquerors) gave Puerto Rico its current name, which means "rich port." The Taíno, its indigenous people, originally call it Borikén, which means "the great land of the valiant and noble Lord." As a result, people who come from Puerto Rico are called Puerto Ricans or Boricuas. Either one is fine.

The Taíno

The Taíno, specifically the Classic Taíno, were the indigenous people of Puerto Rico.  Before the Spanish conquistadores arrived in Borikén, it was divided into chiefdoms ruled by caciques. Despite males being the caciques, the Taíno had a matrilineal system of inheritance in place. Taíno society was divided into three classes: the caciques (chiefs), the naborias (the working class), and the nitaínos (the nobles). The Taíno believed in several gods, such as Yocahu and Jurakán. They lived from agriculture, fishing, and hunting. After the Spanish conquest, their civilization and culture almost disappeared due to diseases and conflicts with the conquistadores.

Taíno symbol with Puerto Rican flag. Creative Common License.

Puerto Rico is the home of Centro Ceremonial Indígena de Tibes (Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center), one of the most important archeological sites in the Caribbean. Located in Ponce, thousands of tourists visit it each year.

Tibes Indigenous Ceremonial Center. Creative Commons License.

The Spaniards and the Americans
Christopher Columbus arrived to Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493 during his second voyage to the New World. This event led to four hundred years of colonial Spanish rule in which the indigenous population diminished and people were forcibly brought in from Africa to work as slaves.
The Spanish-American War brought an end to the Spanish rule in Puerto Rico in 1898. The United States of America, however, took over. Puerto Ricans became US born American citizens and Puerto Rico a US unincorporated territory in 1917.

As a result, Puerto Ricans' heritage is very mixed. Puerto Ricans are proud of their rich culture. Furthermore, Puerto Rico's official languages are Spanish and English. Both languages are taught in schools.

San Juan

San Juan, known as Old San Juan, is Puerto Rico's capital city. It is famous among world tourists for its colonial buildings and fortifications such as Fort San Felipe del Morro, Fort San Cristóbal, La Fortaleza, and Cuartel de Ballajá.

San Juan, Puerto Rico. Creative Common License.

Fort San Felipe del Morro. Creative Commons License.

Puerto Rico's National Symbols

Puerto Rican Flag. Creative Commons License.

Puerto Rican Coat of Arms. Creative Commons License.

National flower: Flor de Maga. Creative Commons License.
Adopted national symbol: the Coquí. Creative Commons License.

Puerto Rican Food

Puerto Rican food is legendary for its deliciousness and flavor. Puerto Ricans have so many tasty plates that it is hard where to begin and what to choose from. However, they have amazing feasts during Christmas and Three Kings' Day (Epiphany Day). As a main dish, they serve pernil (pork), arroz con gandules (rice with green pigeon peas, and pasteles, which are composed of green banana, plantain, or yucca masa and stewed meat, such as pork and chicken. Tostones (crispy fried plantains) and amarillitos (ripe fried plantains) are popular side dishes.

Arroz con gandules, pernil, y pastel. Creative Commons License.

Puerto Rican fabulous desserts include tembleque, brazo Gitano, flan de queso, and polvorones. Their most famous drink is the amazing coquito (the Puerto Rican eggnog).

Tembleque. Creative Commons License.

Puerto Rican Music and Dance

Puerto Rican music and dance has been influenced by its dynamic past. African heritage influences the bomba and plena. European heritage influences the danza and classical music. Caribbean heritage influences the salsa, merenge, and bolero. American culture influences the contemporary Latin Pop and reggaetón.

Bomba performers. Creative Commons License.

Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. Creative Commons License.

Marc Anthony, Jlo, and Ricky Martin. Creative Commons License.

The Puerto Rican Diaspora
Puerto Rico's population is around 3.4 million inhabitants, but Puerto Ricans also live in the states, also known as the mainland. Ever since the United States began its relationship with Puerto Rico, there have been migration waves from the island to the mainland.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the migratory wave incremented because the island's agriculture deteriorated. It continued in a steady pace since then. However, the Puerto Rican diaspora experienced another big increment during the past decade because of Puerto Rico's economic crisis.

Currently, scholars estimate that over 5 million Puerto Ricans reside in the states. Their population concentrates in states such as New York, New Jersey, Florida, and Pennsylvania.

Children's Books about Puerto Rico
1. Kiki Kokí: La Leyenda Encantada del Coquí by Ed Rodríguez

2. On this Beautiful Island by Edwin Fontanez (image not available)

3. The Golden Flower: A Taino Myth from Puerto Rico by Nina Jaffe

4. Everywhere Coquis! / En dondequiera coquies (English and Spanish Edition) by  Nancy Hooper

5. Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Susan L. Roth

6. Mi isla y yo: La naturaleza de Puerto Rico by Alfonso Silva Lee

7. Felisa and The Magic Coquí by Elizabeth Wahn

8. The Coqui and The Iguana by Adilis Vicente
9. Sweet Dreams: El Yunque Dreams by Jo Anne Valle

10. What's Great About Puerto Rico? By Anita Yasuda

11. Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Growing in the Bronx / La juez que creció en el Bronx by Jonah Winter

12. Who was Roberto Clemente? By James Buckley Jr.

13.Miracle on 133rd Street by Sonia Manzano

14. La Flor del Día de los Tres Reyes Magos by Noel Morgado-Santos

15. Juan Bobo Goes to Work (Spanish edition): Juan Bobo busca trabajo by Marisa Montes

16. Good Night Puerto Rico (Good Night Our World) byLisa Bolivar Martinez

17. Tito Puente, Mambo King / Tito Puente, Rey del Mambo by Monica Brown

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