Puerto Ricans

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Puerto Ricans
Flag of Puerto Rico.svg
Total population
(3,638,484 (92% Born in Puerto Rico) [1]
3,846,054 (97.3% identified as native))
Regions with significant populations
 Puerto Rico (2013) 3,466,804[2][3]
 United States (2013) 5,138,109[3][4]
 U.S. Virgin Islands (2010) 10,981[5]
 Dominican Republic (2002) 5,763[6][7]
 Canada (2006) 2,020[8]
 Mexico (2000) 1,970[9]
 Brazil 800[10]
 Venezuela (2001) 528[11]
 United Kingdom (2001) 306[10]
 Costa Rica (2000) 268[12]
 Argentina (2001) 179[13]
 Cuba (2001) 121[14]
 Australia (2006) 78[15]
Spanish, English
Roman Catholic
Related ethnic groups
Africans · Amerindians · Chinese · Corsican · Criollos · French · German · Irish · Italian · Jewish · Maltese · Mestizos · Mulattos · Spanish · Zambos

Puerto Ricans (Spanish: Puertorriqueños; Taíno: boricua) are the inhabitants or citizens of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a multi-ethnic nation, home to people of different ethnic and national backgrounds. As a result, some Puerto Ricans do not treat their nationality as an ethnicity but as a citizenship with various ethnicities and national origins comprising the "Puerto Rican people".

Despite its multi-ethnic composition, the culture held in common by most Puerto Ricans is referred to as mainstream Puerto Rican culture, a Western culture largely derived from the traditions of Western European migrants, beginning with the early Spanish settlers, along with other Europeans arriving later such as the Corsicans Irish, Germans and French, along with a strong West African culture which has been influential.

Puerto Ricans commonly refer to themselves as boricuas. "The majority of Puerto Ricans regard themselves as being of mixed Spanish-European descent. Recent DNA sample studies have concluded that the three largest components of the Puerto Rican genetic profile are in fact indigenous Taíno, European, and African".[16] The population of Puerto Ricans and descendants is estimated to be between 8 to 10 million worldwide, with most living within the islands of Puerto Rico and in the United States mainland. Within the United States, Puerto Ricans are present in all states of the Union, and the states with the largest populations of Puerto Ricans relative to the national population of Puerto Ricans in the United States at large are the states of New York, Florida, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, with large populations also in Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Illinois, and Texas.[17][18]

For 2009,[19] the American Community Survey estimates give a total of 3,859,026 Puerto Ricans classified as "Native" Puerto Ricans. It also gives a total of 3,644,515 (91.9%) of the population being born in Puerto Rico and 201,310 (5.1%) born in the United States. The total population born outside Puerto Rico is 322,773 (8.1%). Of the 108,262 who were foreign born outside the United States (2.7% of Puerto Ricans), 92.9% were born in Latin America, 3.8% in Europe, 2.7% in Asia, 0.2% in Northern America, and 0.1% in Africa and Oceania each.[1]


The original inhabitants of Puerto Rico are the Taíno, who called the island Borikén; however, as in other parts of the Americas, the native people soon diminished in number after the arrival of European settlers. The negative impact on the numbers of Amerindian people was almost entirely the result of Old World diseases that the Amerindians had no natural/bodily defenses against, including measles, chicken pox, mumps, influenza, and even the common cold. In fact, it was estimated that the majority of all the Amerindian inhabitants of the New World perished due to contact and contamination with those Old World diseases, while those that survived were killed by warfare with each other and with Europeans.

Both run-away and freed African slaves (the Spanish, upon establishing a foothold, quickly began to import African slaves to work in expanding their colonies in the Caribbean) were in Puerto Rico. This interbreeding was far more common in Latin America because of those Spanish and Portuguese mercantile colonial policies exemplified by the oft-romanticized male conquistadors (e.g. Hernán Cortés). Aside from the presence of slaves, some indication for why the Amerindian population was so diluted was the tendency for conquistadors to bring with them scores of single men hoping to serve God, country, or their own interests. All of these factors would indeed prove detrimental for the Taínos in Puerto Rico and surrounding Caribbean islands.

Royal Decree of Graces, 1815

In the 16th century, a significant depth of Puerto Rican culture began to develop with the import of African slaves by the Spanish, as well as by the French, the Portuguese, the British, and the Dutch. Thousands of Spanish settlers also immigrated to Puerto Rico from the Canary Islands during the 18th and 19th centuries, so many so that whole Puerto Rican villages and towns were founded by Canarian immigrants, and their descendants would later form a majority of the Spanish population on the island.

In 1791, the slaves in Saint-Domingue (Haiti), revolted against their French masters. Many of the French escaped to Puerto Rico via what is now the Dominican Republic and settled in the west coast of the island, especially in Mayagüez. Some Puerto Ricans are of British heritage, most notably Scottish people and English people who came to reside there in the 17th and 18th centuries.

When Spain revived the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815 with the intention of attracting non-Hispanics to settle in the island hundreds of French (especially Corsicans), Germans and Irish immigrants who were affected by Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s immigrated to Puerto Rico. They were followed by smaller waves from other European countries and China.

During the early 20th century Jews began to settle in Puerto Rico. The first large group of Jews to settle in Puerto Rico were European refugees fleeing German–occupied Europe in the 1930s and 1940s. The second influx of Jews to the island came in the 1950s, when thousands of Cuban Jews fled after Fidel Castro came to power.[20]

Racially mixed society

The native Taino population began to dwindle, with the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century, through disease and miscegenation.[21] Many Spanish men took Taino and African wives. Under Spanish and American rule, Puerto Rico underwent a whitening process or "blanqueamiento". Puerto Rico went from being two-thirds black and mulatto in the beginning of the 19th century, to being nearly 80% white by the middle of the 20th century, which was largely due to the Royal Decree of Graces of 1815 and the Regla del Sacar laws.[22][23][24][25][26] Under Spanish rule, Puerto Rico had laws such as Regla del Sacar or Gracias al Sacar, which made persons of mixed African-European ancestry to be classified as white, which was the opposite of "one-drop rule" in US society after the American Civil War.[27][28] Though, most Puerto Ricans self-identify as white, few are of purely European ancestry, with about 61% of Puerto Ricans have significant Taino ancestry and 46% of Puerto Ricans having significant African ancestry, many are racially mixed, with most people having varying degrees of European, African, and Taino ancestry.[27][29][30][31][30][32][32][33][27][33][31][34][35] Studies have shown that the ancestry of the "average" white Puerto Rican person is about 64% European, 21% African, and 15% Taino/Amerindian, with European ancestry strongest on the west side of the island, African ancestry strongest on the east side, and consistent levels of Taino ancestry throughout the island.[36] In fact, even though 75% of Puerto Ricans self-identify as white, it is estimated only about 25% are of nearly pure European ancestry with little to no non-European admixture.[37][38][39]

Self-Identified Race

Self-Identified Racial Groups - Puerto Rico
Year White % Non-White
1802 42.0 58.0
1812 40.8 59.2
1820 39.4 60.6
1830 45.1 54.9
1877 52.3 47.7
1887 53.5 46.5
1897 59.3 40.7
1899 61.8 38.2
1910 64.5 35.5
1920 72.0 28.0
1930 73.3 26.7
1935 75.2 24.8
1940 76.0 24.0
1950 79.7 20.3
2000 80.5 19.5
2010 75.8 24.2
Census: 1802-2010[22][23][24][25][26]


In 1899, one year after the U.S invaded and took control of the island, 61.8% of the people self identified as White. In the 2010 United States Census the total of Puerto Ricans that self-identified as White was 75.8%.[22][25] The European heritage of Puerto Ricans comes primarily from one source: Spaniards (including Canarians, Catalans, Castilians, Galicians, Asturians, Andalusians, and Basques).

The Canarian cultural influence in Puerto Rico is one of the most important components in which many villages were founded from these immigrants, which started from 1493 to 1890 and beyond. Many Spaniards, especially Canarians, chose Puerto Rico because of its Hispanic ties and relative proximity in comparison with other former Spanish colonies. They searched for security and stability in an environment similar to that of the Canary Islands and Puerto Rico was the most suitable. This began as a temporary exile which became a permanent relocation and the last significant wave of Spanish or European migration to Puerto Rico.[40][41]

Other sources of European populations are Corsicans, French, Italians, Portuguese (especially Azoreans), Greeks, Germans, Irish, Scots, Maltese, Dutch, English, Danes, and Jews.

Whites constitute the majority of the 3,725,789 people living in Puerto Rico, with 2,825,100 or 75.8% of the population in the 2010 United States Census,[42] down from 76.2%[24] in the 2000 Census.[25]


In the 2010 United States Census, 12.4% of people self-identified as Black.[25] African immigrants were brought by Spanish Conquistadors. The vast majority of the Africans who were brought to Puerto Rico did so as a result of the slave trade taking place from many groups in the African continent, but particularly the West Africans, the Yoruba,[43] the Igbo,[43] and the Kongo people.


Amerindians and Mestizos are those who have a pure Amerindian descent or mixed ancestry between Europeans and Amerindians within the Puerto Rican context discarding the other definitions that this term may be used for under other settings. Amerindians make up the third largest racial identity among Puerto Ricans comprising 0.5% of the population.[25]


For its 2010 census, the U.S. Census Bureau listed the following groups to constitute "Asian":[44] Asian Indian, Bangladeshi, Bhutanese, Cambodian, Chinese, Filipino, Hmong, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Laotian, Malaysian, Nepalese, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Other Asian. Though, the largest groups come from China and India. These groups represented 0.2% of the population.


People of "Some other race alone" or "Two or more races" constituted 11.1% of the population in the 2010 Census. Although most Puerto Ricans are mixed-race, few actually identify as multiracial. Most being "mulattos" and "tri-racials", having significant Spanish, African, and Taino ancestry.[45]

Modern identity

The Puerto Rico of today has come to form some of its own social customs, cultural matrix, historically-rooted traditions, and its own unique pronunciation, vocabulary, and idiomatic expressions within the Spanish language. Even after the attempted assimilation of Puerto Rico into the United States in the early 20th century, the majority of the people of Puerto Rico feel pride in their nationality as "Puerto Ricans", regardless of the individual's particular racial, ethnic, political, or economic background. Many Puerto Ricans are consciously aware of the rich contribution of all cultures represented on the island. This diversity can be seen in the everyday lifestyle of many Puerto Ricans such as the profound Latin, African, and Taíno influences regarding food, music, dance, and architecture.


Spanish is the predominant language among Puerto Ricans residing in the island; however, its vocabulary has expanded with many words and phrases coming from the Taíno and African influences of the island. Since 1901, the English language is taught and spoken throughout the island.

As of 2007, the American Community Survey states that 95.1% of island residents speak Spanish and 81.5% of Puerto Ricans speak English less than "very well". 4.7% of people on the island speak English only.[46]


The majority of Puerto Ricans are Christians, though there are present certain Jewish and Islamic sectors in the island. Roman Catholicism has been the main religion among Puerto Ricans since the arrival of the Spanish in the 15th century, but the presence of Protestant, Mormon, Pentecostal, and Jehovah's Witnesses denominations has increased under U.S. sovereignty, making modern Puerto Rico an inter-denominational, multireligious community. The Afro-Caribbean religion Santería is also practiced.


Puerto Ricans often proudly identify themselves as Boricua (formerly also spelled Boriquén, Borinquén, or Borinqueño), derived from the Taíno word Boriken, to illustrate their recognition of the island's Taíno heritage. The word Boriken translates to "the great land of the valiant and noble Lord". Borikén was used by the original Taíno population to refer to the island of Puerto Rico before the arrival of the Spanish.[47] The use of the word Boricua has been popularized in the island and abroad by descendants of Puerto Rico heritage, commonly using the phrase yo soy Boricua ("I am Boricua") to identify themselves as Puerto Ricans. Other variations which are also widely used are Borinqueño and Borincano, meaning "from Borinquen". The first recorded use of the word Boricua comes from Christopher Columbus in his Letter to the Sovereigns of 4 March 1493.[48]

Political and international status

The federal Naturalization Act, signed into law on March 26, 1790 by George Washington, explicitly barred anyone not of the White "race" from applying for U.S. citizenship. This law remained in effect until the 1950s, although its enforcement was tightened in the late nineteenth century regarding Asian immigrants, and by the Johnson-Reed act of 1924 imposing immigration quotas. In short, until late in the twentieth century, only immigrants of the White "race" could hope to become naturalized citizens. The people of Puerto Rico were declared U.S citizens in 1917.[49][50]

Puerto Ricans became citizens of the United States as a result of the passage of the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917. Since this law was the result of Congressional legislation, and not the result of an amendment to the United States Constitution, the current U.S. citizenship of Puerto Ricans can be revoked by Congress,[51] as they are statutory citizens, not 14th Amendment citizens.[52] The Jones Act established that Puerto Ricans born prior to 1899 were considered naturalized citizens of Puerto Rico, and anyone born after 1898 were U.S. citizens, unless the Puerto Rican expressed his/her intentions to remain a Spanish Subject. Since 1948, it was decided by Congress that all Puerto Ricans, whether born within the United States or in Puerto Rico, were naturally born United States citizens.

Puerto Ricans and other U.S. citizens residing in Puerto Rico cannot vote in presidential elections as that is a right reserved by the U.S. Constitution to admitted states and the District of Columbia through the Electoral College system. Nevertheless, both the Democratic Party and Republican Party, while not fielding candidates for public office in Puerto Rico, provide the islands with state-sized voting delegations at their presidential nominating conventions. Delegate selection processes frequently have resulted in presidential primaries being held in Puerto Rico. U.S. Citizens residing in Puerto Rico do not elect U.S. Representatives or Senators, however, Puerto Rico is represented in the House of Representatives by an elected representative commonly known as the Resident Commissioner, who has the same duties and obligations as a representative, with the exception of being able to cast votes on the final disposition of legislation on the House floor. The Resident Commissioner is elected by Puerto Ricans to a four-year term and does serve on congressional committee. Puerto Ricans residing in the U.S. states have all rights and privileges of other U.S. citizens living in the states.

As statutory U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans born in Puerto Rico may enlist in the U.S. military and have been included in the compulsory draft when it has been in effect. Puerto Ricans have fully participated in all U.S. wars and military conflicts since 1898, such as World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since 2007, the Puerto Rico State Department has developed a protocol to issue certificates of Puerto Rican citizenship to Puerto Ricans. In order to be eligible, applicants must have been born in Puerto Rico; born outside of Puerto Rico to a Puerto Rican-born parent; or be an American citizen with at least one year residence in Puerto Rico. The citizenship is internationally recognized by Spain, which considers Puerto Rico to be an Ibero-American nation. Therefore, Puerto Rican citizens have the ability to apply for Spanish citizenship after only two years residency in Spain (instead of the standard 10 years).

See also


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Further reading

  • "Adiós, Borinquen querida": The Puerto Rican Diaspora, Its History, and Contributions, by Edna Acosta-Belen, et al. (Albany, New York: Center for Latino, Latin American, and Caribbean Studies, SUNY-Albany, 2000)
  • "Orgullo Boricua," WAPA TV Program -- http://www.wapa.tv/noticias/especiales/orgullo-boricua--giannina-braschi_20111205213641.html
  • Boricua Hawaiiana: Puerto Ricans of Hawaii --- Reflections of the Past and Mirrors of the Future, by Blase Camacho Souza (Honolulu: Puerto Rican Heritage Society of Hawaii, 1982)
  • Boricua Literature: A Literary History of the Puerto Rican Diaspora, by Lisa Sénchez González (New York: New York University Press, 2001)
  • Boricua Pop: Puerto Ricans and the Latinization of American Culture, by Frances Negrón-Muntaner (New York: New York University Press, 2004)
  • Yo soy Boricua in "United States of Banana, by Giannina Braschi (AmazonCrossing, 2011)
  • Boricuas: Influential Puerto Rican Writings, by Roberto Santiago (New York: One World, 1995)
  • Boricuas in Gotham: Puerto Ricans in the Making of Modern New York City, edited by Gabriel Haslip-Viera, Angelo Falcón and Félix Matos Rodríguez (Princeton: Markus Wiener Publishers, 2004)
  • Taino-tribe.org, PR Taíno DNA study