A Blend of Cultures

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As I’ve mentioned before, Puerto Rico is a blend of three main cultural influences, which include Taíno, Spanish, and African influences. All three cultures had a strong presence on the island throughout its history, which have ultimately melted together to form a seamless Puerto Rican culture.

The Taínos were a group of Arawakan Indians from the Caribbean, mainly Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and, of course, Puerto Rico, who inhabited these islands before the Europeans arrived. They had their own language, structures, religious cosmology, and system of theocratic kingdoms that worked under caciques. Overall, they were a peaceful group of Native Americans and they relied heavily on agriculture as well as hunting for survival. The Taínos main contribution to modern day Puerto Rican culture came through words. Many of the words and names used in Puerto Rico come from the Taíno language.

When it comes to things like food, vegetation, and animals native to Puerto Rico, nearly each name used today derives from the Taínos. For example, yuca, ceiba, guaraguao, and iguana all come from the Taínos. In addition, you can still find many Puerto Rican cities and towns with Taíno names. Mayagüez, Gurabo, Utuado, Yauco, and Cayey all are Taíno names. Not to mention the fact that maracas and cassava bread also comes from Taíno culture, as well as, many Puerto Rican superstitions. Unfortunately, when the Spanish arrived in Puerto Rico, the Taínos didn’t survive too much longer and much of their culture has become a thing of the past.

The Spanish first arrived in the early 16th century, which greatly changed the culture of the island. Not only did the Taínos dwindle in numbers, but the Spanish also began asserting their cultural dominance in Puerto Rico. Spain’s influences on Puerto Rico’s modern day culture are obvious. Puerto Ricans speak Spanish and the island is predominately Catholic, which both come from Spain’s influence. Spain also brought over culinary styles, music, dance, and fashion to Puerto Rico, which still exist on the island today. However, the Spanish also shaped Puerto Rico’s identity when it introduced slavery onto the island.

Because of the slave trade, there was an influx of Africans arriving on the island, which inherently brought over parts of their culture. I recently shared with you all what Bomba is, which originated from the African slaves. Bomba and Plena are both styles of music and dance which came from the Africans, but are now considered two of Puerto Rico’s traditional styles. The African slaves also brought over their culinary styles, like the Spanish, and their traditional oral storytelling. The African slaves are also why so many Puerto Ricans identify as Afro-Caribbeans.

Knowing about the deep blend within Puerto Rican culture, I don’t understand the vast amount of division amongst Puerto Ricans. Aside from being identified as Hispanic, Puerto Ricans can be mistaken for a white European, an African, or a mixed person with how diverse the shades of our skin color can be. Culturally, we all take cues from Europe, Africa, and Native Americans. Granted, not all Puerto Ricans perpetuate prejudice behavior, but there are still plenty of people who encourage the light-skin vs. dark-skin debate. Regardless, all Puerto Ricans, and all Caribbeans for that matter, are of European descent, African descent, and Native American descent. The Caribbean is a seamless blend of cultures.

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About Tatiana Figueroa Ramirez

Born in Puerto Rico and raised in the mainland United States, I graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and am a 2016 VONA Voices Alumna. I currently perform spoken-word in the greater Washington D.C. area and have previously performed in Philadelphia, Miami, and the Dominican Republic. Most recently, I have been published in Public Pool, Spillwords, and The Acentos Review, and Here Comes Everyone: East & West Issue.

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