What do you know about Puerto Rico?

I knew before today that Sonia Sotomayor was Hispanic (it would be hard not to, with all that I’ve read or heard about her “wise Latina” comment), but I’m not sure if I knew she was Puerto Rican. I certainly didn’t know that her parents were recent immigrants, or that she regularly visited Puerto Rico during summers.

It occurred to me that I know relatively little of Puerto Rico, considering that is both a part of our country, and a land with a rich Hispanic heritage (and me being a Spanish major). When I lived in Spain I studied the history and literature of Spain and Latin America, but – at least in terms of history – that never included Puerto Rico. I took a course in Chicano literature in college, and we talked about what it meant to be Mexican-American – but if there was any discussion of Puerto Rican identity in my classes I don’t remember it.

I decided to look for web quizzes on Puerto Rico. I have a pretty good head for trivia of all sorts; I thought I’d do alright, if not very well, on such quizzes. First I was surprised simply how few quizzes I found that were intended for the general public – the sort of quizzes I’ve taken at infoplease.com, for instance, where one doesn’t need an especially good background in the subject to get a decent score.

The first one I found was at the bilingual website AARPSegundaJuventud. Admittedly, visitors to the site were more likely than I to be familiar with the island, but I was amazed that I scored absolutely zero. On a multiple choice quiz! Just by sheer chance I should have gotten a couple of them right.

This quiz was a bit more what I was looking for, and I scored a respectable 7 out of 10 (average is 6 out of 10). Plus I learned from my wrong answers, and got questions right on the next two quizzes I found that I wouldn’t have before. But I continued to learn how much I didn’t know about this island territory.

A good place to learn more is this site on Puerto Rican culture and history. I had known that Puerto Rican Spanish is somewhat different from the Castillian Spanish of Spain (the same can be said of the Spanish of Mexico, and even more so that of Argentina, and probably each of the other Spanish-speaking countries), but not of the influence of the pre-Conquest Taíno language.

The site also discusses “an essential dichotomy of Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States.” Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they do business in U.S. dollars (and a very large part of their economy is trade with the mainland), and they are subject to many of the same federal laws. But they also have “a culture and society profoundly different from that in the mainland.”

To some degree, every area of the country has its own traditions, habits, and values, but generally to a lesser extent. (I have only lived in New England, greater Philadelphia, and the midwest, so I may be mistaken on this, but that is my impression.) I’m not sure how much the reasons for this lie in the language different, or the geographic separation. I do get the impression that the migration is generally one-way, from Puerto Rico to the mainland, so the island culture is less affected by the general American culture than would be the case in Hawaii (again, I am giving general and possibly mistaken impressions).

The Hispanics in our community are mostly if not all from Mexico, so I think the only person with a Puerto Rican background that I know (if it counts to know someone only from online discussions) is Peter L. Perhaps he can correct my misimpressions.

One Response to What do you know about Puerto Rico?

  1. Peter L says:

    You are correct that Puerto Rico is indeed unique. Your Chicano Lit class discussed Mexico because Chicano means “Mexican-American”, whereas the term used by Justice Sotomayor- “latina” refers to all people from Central and South American countries whose main language is Spanish or Portuguese (and perhaps the former French territories).

    Puerto Rican Spanish not only has the Taino influence, but a lot of Americanisms have entered, as well as some African. Fro example, the Spanish word for “clown” is payaso, but in PR they say clon (pronounced as “clone”). A bus is a guagua and a banana is a guinea, since bananas came from Guinea in Africa. There are many other examples, but I have not the time right now to comment.

    For those who want a great vacation, Puerto Rico in the summer is a bargain, and there are not as many yanquis (Americans) around, as the prime season is winter. And, get out of San Juan if you really want to see Puerto Rico. Staying there would be like visiting New York or Chicago and saying you have been to the US.

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