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Essays:

What Does the Music of Puerto Rico Teach Us About Racism?

Contents:


Racial Composition of Puerto Rico - An Historical Survey

Unlike many other Latin American countries with large native indian populations, such as Mexico and Peru, Puerto Rico has historically had an essentially two race, black-white racial profile.

After the native Taíno indians fought and lost a great battle against the Spanish conquistadors in 1510, their population was subsequently greatly reduced. The remnants of the Taínos as a pure race largely disappeared through inter-marriage with black slaves of with the white Spanish settlers, leaving a relatively small creole (mix of white and native indian) population.

A Spanish census conducted in the 1560's reported that there were 15,000 black slaves and approximately 500 Spaniards in Puerto Rico. Scholars generally agree that these counts were inaccurate. Many of the reported "blacks" were mixed race children or grandchildren of the native Puerto Ricans.

The number of white settlers, predominantly from Spain, increased considerably over the next century so that by the time of the census conducted in 1827, there were reported to be 159,527 African people, including mestizo (mixed black and white) in Puerto Rico. This constituted slightly less than half (49 percent) of the total population, although, again, the counts are considered to be inexact.

But of these "blacks" only 32,000 were slaves. This relatively small number was due largely to the absence of a large sugar industry. Agriculture in Puerto Rico was primarily a function of small farms mostly using free labor, instead of the large plantations dependent on slaves that were common elsewhere.

There were several other important factors explaining the nature of the racial mix in Puerto Rico during the Spanish colonial period.

One of these was Spain's policy of granting freedom to black slaves who immigrated from other colonies on the condition that they embrace Christianity.

Another was a relatively large population of poor whites and official support for white European immigration, including political exiles and Jews, known as "Chuetas" who were forced to convert to Christianity during the days of the Inquisition.

In short, Puerto Rico was racially diverse, with an equal number of whites and "colored" as late as 1865.

The insular government of Puerto Rico proposed the abolition of slavery as far back as 1812 but Spain refused, in large part due to pressure from Cuban slave owners. In 1870 the Moret Law represented a significant step toward the abolition of slavery by granting freedom to the children of slaves at that time, and to all those more than 60 years old, or to those who who fought for Spain. Slavery in Puerto Rico was finally ended in 1873.


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