Puerto Rico: Afro-Caribbean and Taíno Identity

The number of Puerto Ricans that identify only as black or Native American has increased by about 50 percent in the last decade, according to the latest census figures, which have surprised experts. “The increase suggests a growing sense of racial identity among the various ethnic groups that for a long time have been considered a heterogeneous mosaic in this Commonwealth of United States” writes AOL Noticias.

However, experts consider that it is too early to explain the reason for the change. “This really breaks with a historical pattern,” says Jorge Duany, professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico. With the growth in those who consider themselves black or Native American, there was a decrease in the percentage of the population of Puerto Ricans who only identify as white. This group dropped almost 8 percentage points, to about 76% of the 3.7 million inhabitants of the island. More than 461,000 islanders identified solely as black, an increase of 52%, while close to 20,000 said that they were Native Americans, an increase of almost 49%.

According to experts, several factors could have influenced the increase in the number of people who identify as black. Duany explains that the choice of Barack Obama as President of United States could have influenced some who see themselves as black, because the leader dissipated negative stereotypes about race. The increase in the number of blacks also coincided with a push to highlight the black population of Puerto Rico, as the Department of Education included for the first time a high school textbook dealing exclusively with its history. Moreover, there was a base effort aimed at dark-skinned Puerto Ricans through social networks such as Facebook to urge them to identify as “afro-puertorriqueños” [Afro-Puerto Ricans] in the 2010 census.

The population of the island is a merging of races, where phrases like “café con leche” [coffee with milk] abound to identify different skin tones. “There is no real or pure race. We are all mixed” says Barbara Abadía Rexach, professor of anthropology at the University of Puerto Rico. On the other hand, a possible reason for the increase of Puerto Ricans who identify as Native American is that the Census Bureau citizens allowed adding a tribal identification to its description, an option that did not exist previously.

[For more on this topic, I highly recommend the collection Taíno Revival: Critical Perspectives on Puerto Rican Identity and Cultural Politics, with essays by Gabriel Haslip-Viera (editor), Arlene Dávila, Jorge Duany, Roberto Mucaro Borrero, Peter Roberts, and Miriam Jiménez Román. Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, 2001; Marcus Wiener Publishers, 2006.]

For original article (in Spanish), see http://noticias.aollatino.com/2011/04/01/puerto-rico-censo-poblacion/

Illustration: A mural by Miguel Ángel Guzmán (Caguana Souvenir Shop, Utuado, PR), from http://www.nyboricua.com/boricua.htm

5 thoughts on “Puerto Rico: Afro-Caribbean and Taíno Identity

  1. Excellent article & blog.

    Caribbean culture is so rich & beautiful.

    Puerto Rico’ racial/social history is complex & fascinating.

    The good & bad. All of it.

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