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What Does the Music of Puerto Rico Say About Puerto Ricans?
The Lament of Poverty
Today, Puerto Ricans enjoy a level of prosperity far better than those of previous times and substantially better than many others around the world. This was not always the case. For centuries, most Puerto Ricans endured dire poverty in a colonial backwater of the Spanish empire.
For different reasons, the relative poverty of Puerto Ricans currently living in the United States, makes this theme important in our understanding of Puerto Rico and its people.
No song expresses the anguish of poverty better than one of most renown songs by the beloved Puerto Rican songwriter, Rafael Hernández: Lamento Borincano (complete lyrics), here sung by the Trio Voces de Puerto Rico. At the same time, no song better expresses the indomitable spirit of Puerto Ricans, than archetypical "jíbaro" that is its hero.
Lyrics translated by Jaime Serrat
The simple peasant, or "jíbaro" dreams of selling his wares and improving his lot. His selflessness is expressed in his wish to buy his wife a dress. But the sheer joy in those thoughts; that raised his spirits and kept him going, were crushed by reality. He laments the poverty that is so widespread, expressed in the song as a deserted town.
Do the images Don Rafael projects in Lamento Borincano still ring true? Some would argue that the song, written during the Great Depression, does not accurately portray the current situation of most Puerto Ricans. Others, disagree; citing an unemployment rate approximately double that of any state in the United States, and a reliance of government assistance by more than one third of the Puerto Rican population
In either case, the song's beauty is the eloquent statement it makes about the spirit of the typical Puerto Rican; an inner strength based on faith in God. The stoic streak in Puerto Ricans is often expressed by the common refrain: "Si Dios quire" (If God wills it).