By Ian Henderson
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States of America. It is in the Caribbean Sea in a group of three large islands. The islands are called Puerto Rico, Vieques, and Culebra (we lived in Culebra for two months!). The population of Puerto Rico was 3,706,691 people in 2012! Puerto Rico has some weird things and some really cool things. Now let’s explore!
Puerto Rico is between the Virgin Islands and the island of Hispaniola, which is split in two by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It is about 800 miles southeast of Florida. We traveled to Puerto Rico from St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. It turns out that compared to Puerto Rico, St. Thomas is practically a speck! The latitude and longitude coordinates of Puerto Rico are 18 degrees 15 minutes north and 66 degrees 30 minutes west. Try to guess how far away Puerto Rico is from Maine. It’s 1,877 miles away! South America is actually five hundred miles away across the Caribbean Sea!
Puerto Rico was inhabited by the Taíno Indians hundreds of years ago. The Taíno called the island Borikén (which means land of the lords). The Taíno were living peacefully among the animals all over the island of Puerto Rico. Then in 1493 on his second voyage Christopher Columbus discovered Puerto Rico. In the year 1508 Ponce de Leon the conquistador, also one of the men on Columbus’ second voyage, came to Puerto Rico to build a safe haven for ships bringing gold to Spain and to search for gold. It was eventually annexed by the U.S.A when we took it over in the Spanish-American war in 1898.
When Spain initially took over Puerto Rico they did not colonize it, but used it for military uses as a port to protect gold ships. They didn’t colonize it till later around 1512 creating sugar plantations and growing other cash crops. They didn’t have anyone to do the work for them so they captured the indians that where being nice to them and giving them gold! They took the indians and enslaved them and soon the indians died of diseases like small pox. So the Spanish brought over Africans to do the work because they were used to the germs that the Spanish had so they used them instead. However, less Africans were brought to Puerto Rico than other Caribbean Islands.
In 1898 Puerto Rico was taken over by the USA in the Spanish-American war. It was a quick take over. The U.S fired at the Spanish with heavily armored battle ships but the Spanish only had the old musty cannons from when Ponce de Leon was in charge so, they were easily defeated.
Today Puerto Rico is a territory owned by the USA. Most people still speak Spanish at home and at work. Almost everyone speaks some English, and the richer Puerto Ricans are often bilingual. The people are a mixture of Spanish, Taíno, African descent. There has also been a lot of mixing with people from the USA. The food is also inspired by African, American, Taíno, and Spanish cuisine. For example, the African slaves influenced deep fried food. Rice and beans is a very common dish.
I have observed and found the wonders of this land… including El Yunque, Old San Juan, and Culebra (see earlier posts). I hope that you will come here after reading this essay. Puerto Ricans are very welcoming! Personally I think it’s very interesting that they are so happy to have more strangers on their little island but I also think its a little weird.