What is a Puerto Rican?

Since the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States there has been a lot of attention given to the fact that the judge is Hispanic, specifically of Puerto Rican descent. Judge Sotomayor has used the terms Puerto Rican and Nuyorican to describe herself, but some Americans not familiar with the terms have not understood the references.

Puerto Rico is the easternmost and smallest of the Greater Antilles, located between the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Basin to the south. Originally settled as a Spanish colony, Puerto Rico became part of the United States as a result of the Spanish American War and in 1917, the Jones Act conferred U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico is, therefore, part of the United States of American and not a foreign country as some people mistakenly claim.

Just as the mainland United States has a rich and diverse history with settlers from all over the world, Puerto Rico, too, attracted many people to its shores.

The first to settle the island were the Taíno  who named the island Borinquen. They were an Arawak people of the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas who did not fare well when they encountered the Spanish and by the mid fifteen hundreds, they were extinct. A Boriqua is an inhabitant of Borinquen.

The European heritage of Puerto Ricans comes primarily from one source:  Spaniards (including Canarians, Catalans, Galicians, Asturians, Asturians, Andalucians and Basques.)

Other European influences include: Corsicans, French, Germans, Irish, Portuguese, Scots and Maltese

African influences include: West African– Yoruba–Igbo.  Other influences: Chinese, Jewish, Lebanese

A Puerto Rican, therefore, is any person born on the island. Most of the inhabitants trace their heritage to Spain, but many others are the descendants of other parts of Europe, Africa or Asia as well as the Taíno. Many Puerto Ricans, who also commonly refer to themselves as “boricuas,” are also a blend of these groups, which has produced a very diversified people. A Puerto Rican, too, is anyone who lives on the island, which has been described as the closest thing to paradise on earth.

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, Central Florida and the  Chicago Metropolitan Area. In New York City there is a huge Nuyorican community.

What is a Nuyorican? A person of Puerto Rican birth or descent living primarily in New York City.

Question: What is a Puerto Rican?

Answer: A very proud American.


7 thoughts on “What is a Puerto Rican?

  1. Hmm… just offering a bit of updated history, if I may…

    Although the history provided by the conquering people (Spaniards) to the world states that all Taino were extinct, it has been found that this is not true.

    Once African slavery became all the rage, the conquerors found that all they had to do was lie regarding the native slaves they had and they would then be allowed the purchase of a few slaves from the new stock. Who’s gonna check?

    When Spain did decide to check, the spanish changed the natives and their designation went from being “indios” to “darker people” (mulatos or mestizo).

    The best way to eliminate a people is to convince them they do not exist. To this day history still denies the existence of the Taino by painting Columbus’ arrival to the Caribbean and meeting some generic indian tribe.

    Maybe it’s time this should be changed.




    Just google Taino.


  2. I like to live in America
    Everything free in America
    OK by me in America

    West Side Story is my absolutely favorite musical. Maria is my hero!

  3. Nanu:

    Thank you for your updated history lesson. Reading the links you suggested in your comment post were most illuminating. Most of us who are ignorant cannot begin to learn if we do not ask the right questions or if a teacher does not come along to enlighten us. Thanks again for the comment.


  4. Hi,
    I really liked this post (and Nanu’s comment). I think its important that people remain informed. I consider myself Puerto Rican. I was not born on the island, but my parents were (Aguadilla), as were my grandparents, and my greatgrandparents on each side came from Spain (various towns in Andalucia and in Madrid) and one from Ireland. I was raised in both Puerto Rico and New York – and was taught to embrace my heritage (all the Taino, African, and Spaniard in our culture as well as my splash of Irish). Although I live in New York, I do not call myself Nuyorican for one reason – I find that if you live outside the island many may consider you to be a gringa/o and so I associate this “gringa/o” classification as Nuyorican (please note, I don’t think this is meant to have a negative connotation, but it makes me feel separated from an Island I hold so dearly in my heart). I live in NYC (another nice island, though not heavenly). I am American. I am Puerto Rican.

  5. Thank you, Li, for your thoughtful comments. I think a comment from another reader will interest you; take a look at “Rene’s Comment – Who I Am” posted on this blog, September 8, 2009.

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