Puerto Rican Culture

Asynchronous Assignment on Local/Diasporic Tainos by Arlene Dávila

Founding Director of the Latinx Project and Professor of Anthropology and Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University,  Dr. Arlene Dávila provides in “Local/Diasporic Tainos” a dis­cussion of the diverse objectives and goals for which Taino-ness has been deployed. Dávila argues that the “debate over Taino is not only about the content and nature of this identity, but rather about issues of cultural authority and the role of cultural memory in the very redefinition of Puerto Rican-ness both on the island and in the diaspora (35-6).”

Dávila describes the historical transformation of the Tainos from a recognized group and a living population into a symbol of national assertion to be revived, romanticized, and manipulated.



In the comment section down below, write a 225-word response based on ONE of the following prompts (due on 3/1 before class):


Elaborate on the ways cultural policy in Puerto Rico constructed the Taino heritage as an “equal” foundational element of Puerto Rican culture.  How the Taino identity was used as a “racial buffer” and a basis of racial integration despite the ongoing reality of racial discrimination directed at Afro-descendants on the island? (Pages 36-39)


How the Taino image has been interpreted politically by different groups? (37-40)


Discuss how in the United States, interest in the Taino has not been limited to its use as a symbol of national assertion (Puerto Rican-ness) but also as an organized movement of ethnic revival and indigenous advocacy. (Pages 40-43)

Tainos: Mythology and Cosmology- Sebastián Robiou Lamarche

Sebastián Robiou Lamarche is a historian dedicated primarily to the study of the Tainos and Caribs, the two main indigenous people of the Caribbean. The chapter “Tainos: Mythology and Cosmology” from his book Tainos and Caribs The Aboriginal of the Antilles offer us a description of the recuperated Taino myths, ancestral storytelling, cosmology, and spiritual views.

Oral/slide presentations on the essay “Tainos: Mythology and Cosmology.”

Claudio, Pedro O

DaCosta, Alexander


Robiou Lamarche organizes his re-count of Taino myths by dividing them into different cycles.

The first cycle (pp.106-110) describes Taino origins  in the spiritual realm:

.Yaya also know as Yocahú is the spirit, cause, and essence of life. He lives in heaven and is immortal. He has no beginning and his mother is Atabey.

.With Atabey we can identify the feminine/fertility principle in Taino culture.

.The struggle with son Yayael leads to a sacrifice and the creation of our world. It also initiates the cult of ancestors.

The second cycle (pp. 110-112) corresponds to the creation of the Taino universe in the Antilles:

.The Tainos emerged in the Caribbean from Ayiti (Haiti).

.Caves were considered a kind of uterus, the portal of entry and exit to the underworld.

.When leaving the cave some Tainos were transformed by the sun into different natural beings: stone, tree, and bird.

.These myths let us know the deep connection between Tainos and their ecosystems.

The third cycle (pp.113-115) is dedicated to the formation of Taino Society:

.Guahayona and Anacacuya were among the first Taino to emerge from the Cacibajagua cave.

.Their troubled relationship lets us understand the division of power and gender within Taino society.

.Guahayona separates women from men and submerges Anacacuya into the sea.

.Anacacuya, the mythical cacique, is associated with both the underwater world and with Polaris, the star at the center. Astronomical knowledge was a pursuit of Antillean Tainos.

.Guahayona, the behique or shaman, is connected to navigation, travels, and spiritual rituals.

The fourth cycle (pp. 116-117) is the stage of growth, development expansion, and consolidation of Taino people.

.The ancestors of Taino women are androgynous celestial beings.

.The women were transformed by woodpeckers by carving Jobo trees.

.This cycle represents the reunification of men and women.

Group Discussion

Once Upon a Time in Puerto Rico (Daniel Ramirez, 2016)

4:40- 7:40 (Areito sequence)

What was the importance of areíto in Taino societies ? How the areítos relate to current Puerto Rican festivities?

Aftershocks of Disaster- Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón

In their anthology Aftershocks of Disaster, professors,  scholars, and public intellectuals, Yarimar Bonilla and Marisol LeBrón engage in a conversation about colonialism and coloniality and how current climate and governmental disasters, and recent Puerto Rican migration waves are connected to more than 122 years of US imperialism in Puerto Rico.

In a recent interview, Yarimar Bonilla argues that the 2020 earthquake “swarm” in Puerto Rico pushed us to expand their framework of the Aftershock.

“In an earthquake swarm, there is no sense of a “main event” with smaller precursors and successors. Instead, you have a jumble of seismic events of disordered magnitudes, depths, epicenters, and consequences.

I’ve thus started to think that what Puerto Rico and many of its neighbors are experiencing might best be understood as a “disaster swarm,” with hurricanes, earthquakes, debt crisis, migratory crisis, imperial violence, austerity governance, and other forms of structural and systemic violence all acting as a disordered jumble upon a collective body that cannot distinguish a main event or a discrete set of impacts.”


Aftershocks (of Hurricane María): an examination of not “just the effects of the wind or rain but also what followed [and preceded it]: state failure, social abandonment, capitalization on human misery, and the collective trauma produced by the botched response.” (2)

Aftershocks happen “every time systemic failures are revealed, death and damages are denied, aid is refused, profiteering is discovered, and officials who were not elected by local residents make drastic decisions about the island’s future (3).”

Building from the premise that Hurricane Maria is not a singular event, Bonilla, LeBrón, and the contributors of the anthology defend that Puerto Rico endured coloniality of disaster, that is, “the way  the structures and enduring legacies of colonialism set the stage for María’s impact and its aftermath (11).” The particular trauma experienced in Puerto Rico after María is deeply tied to a longer preexisting colonial trauma (12).”

Group Discussion

For those with family members or friends on the archipelago of Puerto Rico, how Hurricane Maria and/or the earthquakes particularly affected your loved ones?



Oral/slide presentations

Cancel, Caitlin

Cepeda, Liliana

Concise Writing Exercise

Engage in a 5-minute brainstorm/writing session based on the essay and your own analysis.

Write a concise response in the chat based on this prompt:

How writers, journalists, artists, activists, and organizers offer us ways to understand the disaster and imagine futures for Puerto Rico?  (Pages 10-16)

Asynchronous Assignment on A Brief History of US Colonialism in Puerto Rico (Pages 36-48)



In the comment section down below, write a 225-word response based on ONE of the following prompts (due on 2/17 before class):


Thinking about the Ponce Massacre of 1937, the imprisonment of nationalist leader Pedro Albizu Campos, the  “Gag Law” (La Mordaza), and the response to the insurrection of October 1950, discuss the repercussions of the clashes between the Puerto Rican government and the Nationalist Party.


How the mass sterilization campaign and Operation Bootstrap (Manos a la obra) raised concerns about a possible population control agenda in Puerto Rico? Discuss the intersections between Puerto Rican migrants and African Americans in the northeast?


Regarding the creation of the Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) analyze the following quote:

“[Luis Muñoz Marín] worked with the Truman administration to create a meaningless new status for Puerto Rico that would change nothing regarding the US Constitution’s “Territorial Clause,” through which Congress would continue to have complete authority over territories.”

Why Morales considers the Commonwealth (ELA) a fantasy?

A Brief History of US Colonialism in Puerto Rico (Pages 19-36)- Ed Morales

What are the central ideas of this writer, thinker, or artist?

The first half of Nuyorican scholar, journalist, and poet Ed Morales’ essay goes over major events in the history of the colonial relationship between the United States and  Puerto Rico. Morales explains US imperial expansion at the end of nineteen-century by offering details of the Spanish-American War and its consequences in the Caribbean and Asia.

.Spanish-American War

Morales says that “although the idea of Manifest Destiny was at the forefront  of the political discourse of this period, it’s less often observed that the United States’ expansionist gaze was saturated with racial language and attitudes, at once desirous of and repelled by Latin America’s [Black] mestizo/mulatto social dynamic.” (20) These oppressive racial constructions were responsible in many ways for the early rejection of annexation and the creation of the Foraker Act which established the legal notion of the unincorporated territory (22-25).

.Foraker Act


Analyze one specific section by your chosen author that best communicates what you identified in the question above.

“The Jones Act conferred citizenship on all Puerto Ricans. It established a resident commissioner and a nonvoting representative of Congress, and it subjected the island to its shipping laws, which permanently raised the prices of goods shipped to the island… [it] forbid Puerto Rico from allowing any commercial ships to dock at its ports that were not constructed in the United States and flying the US flag… The Jones Act also provided for the triple-tax exemption from the sale of government bonds that helped create the current debt crisis.”  (30)

.The Jones Act

.Political Status

What analogies can you establish between the primary source, your own experiences, and/or other sources you have read, listened to, or seen?

The Jones Act was responsible for the restricted relief after Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans couldn’t receive help from neighboring countries in the Caribbean and Latin America and except for one week, the Jones Act was never removed during the emergency which, because of taxation bureaucracy, had the effect of stagnant donations and help at the ports.

Pose a critical question to the group.

Ed Morales and Rosie Pérez argue that although controversial and in many ways, conservative, Pedro Albizu Campos “retains a venerated status in Puerto Rico and even more so among the mainland diaspora, regardless of political orientation in US or Puerto Rican politics.” Why do you think he is still respected and celebrated in Puerto Rican circles? (Pages 32-36)

Asynchronous Assignment on I’m Boricua, Just So You Know!

Yo soy Boricua Pa’ Que Tu Lo Sepas! I’m Boricua, Just So You Know! (Rosie Pérez, 2006)

Rosie Perez is a Nuyorican actress, community activist, talk show host, author, dancer, and choreographer.

What is the context in which the documentary was written and produced?

Using the Puerto Rican Day Parade as a backdrop and questions about the roots of Puerto Rican pride, Nuyorican artist, Rosie Perez, her sister, and cousin embark on personal research about the history of Puerto Rico and its colonial dependency with the United States. The processes of Puerto Rican migration and community building in the U.S. are also discussed in the film.

What is the documentary’s central argument?

Rosie Pérez and her family, argue that to understand Puerto Rican migration to the United States, one has to discuss the history of imperialism and colonialism in the island and comprehend how the United States has benefitted from Puerto Rican land, resources, and people.

Pérez also argues that Puerto Rican pride comes from ongoing cultural and political resistance both on the archipelago and in the diaspora.




In the comment section down below, write a 225-word response based on ONE of the following prompts (due on 2/8 before class):


What are some specific effects of Spanish and US colonialism in Puerto Rico? Expand on at least one case presented in the documentary.


Beyond the parade, how Puerto Ricans defend their cultural legacy and community in the US? Expand on at least one example presented in the documentary.


Making references to the history and ideas presented in the documentary write a poem in which you identify the struggles of being a colony but also the cultural vibrancy of Puerto Ricans.

Pa’lante- Hurray for the Riff Raff

Hurray for the Riff Raff is a band from New Orleans. It was formed by Alynda Segarra, a Puerto Rican singer-songwriter from the Bronx, New York after she had moved to New Orleans in 2007. As Segarra’s project, the group originally performed different styles of US folk music while releasing several albums independently.

by Alynda Segarra and Pedro Pietri
Oh I just wanna go to work
And get back home, and be something
I just wanna fall and lie
And do my time, and be something
Well I just wanna prove my worth
On the planet Earth, and be something
I just wanna fall in love
Not fuck it up, and feel something
Well lately, don’t understand what I am
Treated as a fool
Not quite a woman or a man
Well I don’t know
I guess I don’t understand the plan
Colonized, and hypnotized, be something
Sterilized, dehumanized, be something
Well take your pay
And stay out the way, be something
Ah, do your best
But fuck the rest, be something
Well lately, it’s been mighty hard to see
Just searching for my lost humanity
I look for you, my friend
But do you look for me?
Lately, I’m not too afraid, to die
I wanna leave it all behind
I think about it sometimes
Lately, all my time’s been movin’ slow
I don’t know where I’m gonna go
Just give me time, I’ll know
Oh, any day now
Oh, any day now
I will come along
Oh, any day now
Oh, any day now
I will come along
I will come along
Dead Puerto Ricans, who never knew they were Puerto Ricans
Who never took a coffee break from the 10th commandment
To kill, kill, kill
The landlords of their cracked skulls
And communicate with their Latin souls
Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Olga, Manuel
From the nervous breakdown streets where the mice live like millionaires
And the people do not live at all
From el barrio to Arecibo, ¡Pa’lante!
From Marble Hill to the ghost of Emmett Till, ¡Pa’lante!
To Juan, Miguel, Milagros, Manuel, ¡Pa’lante!
To all who came before, we say, ¡Pa’lante!
To my mother and my father, I say, ¡Pa’lante!
To Julia, and Sylvia, ¡Pa’lante!
To all who had to hide, I say, ¡Pa’lante!
To all who lost their pride, I say, ¡Pa’lante!
To all who had to survive, I say, ¡Pa’lante!
To my brothers and my sisters, I say, ¡Pa’lante!
To all came before, we say, ¡Pa’lante!


Group Discussion

How the lyrics examine some psychological effects of the colonized?
How the music video shows the integration and tensions between Puerto Ricans in the archipelago and in the diaspora?