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)

21 thoughts on “Asynchronous Assignment on Local/Diasporic Tainos by Arlene Dávila”

  1. OPTION 3

    The discussion of Taino culture, heritage, and history has become a more spoken about topic in recent years. This is partly due to the indigenous advocacy present among the many indigenous groups throughout the Americas. The United States as a whole is becoming more aware of indigenous history as it is the topic of more and more conversation. Specifically speaking about the interest in the Taino, this is a topic of some interest because many Puerto Ricans live in mainland United States and are a part of the Taino legacy. This is a little known fact to most Americans, that Puerto Ricans have this rich indigenous heritage behind them. Thus, sparking interest in others during a time when cultural/ethnic awareness is increasingly important for every individual to have a grasp on. The political climate we are currently living through is what has brought much of this advocacy about. Thanks to the many other indigenous groups who have come forward, those with Taino heritage now have a voice and are starting to be heard for the first time in forever.

  2. Option 1P
    Puerto Rico has used the Taino heritage to influence the cultural policy by positioning the Taino involvement of Puerto Rico as “equal” which, in turn, downplays the role of the Spanish towards the genocide of the Taino people, diminishes the role of the African people, and uplifts the Spanish culture in Puerto Rico as a whole. When Puerto Rico was trying to figure out their national identity, they positioned the role of the Tainos as “helpful” and “diffused,” meaning that any mentioning of Tainos reflected as almost folklore or historical tone which allowed for anything related to the Tainos to be put in the past. This downplayed the Spanish conquering of Puerto Rico and blatantly ignores the terrors of the Taino people. By saying that the Tainos were “helpful,” “passive,” or “compliant,” makes an agreement between people that everything was voluntary and prosperous for Puerto Rico, when in fact, that is not the case. Puerto Rico diffused the Taino role into Puerto Rican culture which gave more importance to the Tainos than the African slaves that also forcibly contributed to the Puerto Rican culture. Yes, Tainos contributed a lot, but the African population was being denied and unheard because of this mission to integrate Taino people and culture into Puerto Rican identity. It also invalidates any discretions that the African population faced as a result of colonization, cultural policy, or any alliance to Puerto Rico’s Spanish roots.

  3. Topic 2

    Taino’s were indigenous people who were apart of the Caribbean around the 15th Century and their legacy has been around ever since. There is an annual Indigenous Festival in Jayuya where there was showing the legacy of the Taino’s. You would see Taino dress, music, dance, and customs. However, the Taino image has been differently interpreted by different groups. In the 18th century the Taino people has seem to vanish or now they were just part of the Puerto Rican population. From the 18th century you begin to notice the change that people are having with the Taino’s. In 1778 that was the last time the census has mention the Indio’s. They went from a group and a part of the population to a symbol that was being brought back around but that was also getting manipulated. In 1854, that’s when they took the objects of the Taino’s and were displayed as a souvenir of the past. However, there was another view of the Taino that were being devalued and being connected as a “weak” part of Puerto Rico’s character and culture. Taino, the Spanish, and Africans were being presented as “equal” to the Puerto Rican culture. However, they weren’t as equaled as they were portrayed to be. There was racial and social integration that was being brought upon the government. The influence they had were always considered as less or had a lower ranking to the Spanish culture even though most of the crafts, music, and so much more were traced from the Taino’s. They have encountered racial integration from society, but they were also a voice for the political claims on the island. There are people who value and look up to the Taino’s but then you can see the other views of how the Taino’s were treated differently and were consider less than others.

  4. Throughout the 1970’s, generally the people believed very highly of the Taino’s and their legacy. The Instituto de Cultura Puertorriquena created a very intensive and comprehensive serious of events that included lectures and documentaries that would maintain the culture and history of such groups that majorly influenced Puerto Rico. Indigenous motifs have also encouraged a positive outlook on the Taino group by involving them in merchandise that has been greatly supported by tourists. Within the town of Jayuya, the people have also traditionalized a festival that also celebrates the Taino’s and holds their legacy. Within this festival, a woman who has Taino features is crowned queen. The festival also includes typical events such as dancing, eating and celebration. Many intellectuals such as historians, have looked at how Tainos and Africans cultural practices have been evaluated. These processes have created a lot of racial tension as well as discrimination in Puerto Rico. Because of this many devalued the legacy of the Taino’s and believed that they were weak. They were also compared to noble savages. Cultural nationalists have also viewed the Taino’s as Puerto Rico’s original inhabitants. They believed that they were conquered by the Spaniards. In general, many Puerto Ricans look up to the Taino’s. They created a foundation for the country before they were conquered and civilized. It also enables people from this country to relate to their own history. Many reflect on the Taino legacy and history of oppression to understand the control that the United states has upon Puerto Rico.

  5. Option 3

    In the United States, the talk of multiculturalism has greater benefits since the recognition of the Taino became a distinct identify. Taino movement and identity received greater attention. As Taino culture become more exposed and more known, there was an ethnic reveal and indigenous advocacy movement. The Taino were more closely connected to social movements and grass-root activist. The central role of Taino symbolism grass-root activism in the United States context is evident in the struggles faced by Puerto Ricans. Taino past and the ability to promote their identity was experiences in the U.S. Some triggered experiences with the Native Americans movement. Native Americans knew more about their culture then the Taino. Four Taino activist were involved in the Native Americans movement. For the Taino, this gave them some form of acceptance. Not only that, but it also gave some sort of motivation for self-identification. For Taino, another factor that contributed to self-discovery was their common experience of prejudice, discrimination, and dislocation. However, imposed and debased them as “Puerto Ricans” or “Hispanics” allowed them to trace their self-discovery to spiritual inspirations. Memories and stories were transmitted by parents and grandparents. Usually, most memories and stories stressed the “conduit of Taino culture”.

  6. Option 3:

    Interest in the Taino has not been limited in the United States as a symbol of nation assertion
    and organized movement of ethnic revival because of a push in recent years to identify with oppressed peoples and finding a sense of responsibility toward equality. The Taino are a prime example of how colonialism had driven those people into a difficult position where they had to fend for their survival and become resilient enough to carry their legacy by maintaining the culture. Because of their oppression by the Europeans, it can be argued that because of massive changes that occurred over a period of decades, many people are becoming more aware of issues that the Taino and other oppressed groups have faced. It is not only a symbol of nation assertion because it represents more than a culture, it is something that I argue many people should be proud of, something that represents how their identity was almost destroyed.
    In terms of being an organized movement of ethnic revival and indigenous advocacy, it is also important to note that many people who faced an oppressive situation become more attached to their culture and reluctant to adopt another. Many people in recent years have identified with their homeland more because of actions taken against certain racial groups, which can show a form of solidarity with their people.

    According to Local/Diasporic Tainos by Arlene Davila, The Taino culture and identity has been used by different groups of people in Puerto Rico in order to skew and reinterpret the original culture that lies beneath it. The government used the Taino culture and remains to emphasize the idea that they are history and have been long gone. Publix expositions of Taino object being displayed alongside Spanish conquistador armor with the description as “cherished souvenirs” from the past. Taino culture is also retold and created into a story of passivity and compliance, which has also been viewed as nobility and goodness from others. These other groups protest the ideals that government and centralized groups have minimized the importance of the islands people. The Taino history has been used to debate the modern colonialism that Puerto Rico is facing with the United States of America, the portrayal that the Taino are noble, good, but ultimately weak and conquerable shows an ironic twist that exposes the flaws of the government’s acts to suppress the Taino heritage. According to the reading the Taino image has been used to deploy political mobilization against nationalist ideals. In New York on the other hand the Taino identity has become just that an identity. It is a voice for 1st generation immigrants from the island to properly identify themselves within their cultural heritage.

  8. Option 2

    How Taino Image Have Been Interpreted Politically By Different Groups
    The Taino were the natives of the Caribbean. They were the major residents of Cuba, Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico during the time of European interaction. They were also the new domain people met by Christopher Columbus at the time of his voyage in 1492. They communicated using Taino language. DNA study was carried out on an ancient tooth, and it revealed that the Taino people have existing heirs in Puerto Rico, and it showed that the Puerto Ricans have a mark of the Taino lineage.
    The Spanish colonizers intermarried with the Taino women, and several mixed progenies intermarried with the Africans generating a three-party Creole culture. Some Taino men and African women intermarried, and lived separately (Sylla, 48). They advanced in a mixed-race population of peasants who were liberated from Spanish power. Taino’s ancestors came from the South American continent, and their culture developed on Caribbean islands. During the period of Columbus’s onset in 1492, the Taino had 5 chiefdoms in Hispaniola, each headed by a chief to whom the tribute was paid. Cuba was divided into 29 chiefdoms and they fluctuated from small settlements to larger centers of more than 3000 people.
    The Spanish conquered some of the Taino chiefdoms. Conflicts and hostile enslavement of the Taino people by the colonizers reduced the population (Aronsson, 89). Taino men were forced to work in the gold mines and the colonialists’ plantations and due to this, there was no time left for them to plant their crops for feeding their population. It is believed that an infectious disease among the Europeans from the old worlds caused high death rates as there were native new Americans who had no immunity against the disease (Sylla, 48). Also, an epidemic of smallpox killed almost ninety percent of the remaining Taino. The remaining Taino intermarried with the Africans and Europeans and were unified into the Spanish groups. At the end of that century, the Taino people were considered to be nonexistent. Later on, in 1840, the activists had been trying their best to form a quasi-indigenous Taino distinctiveness in Cuba’s rural parts.

    Work cited
    Aronsson, Peter, Birgitta Svensson, and Andrej Slávik. Images in History/History in Images: Towards and (audio) visual historiography. Kungl. Vitterhets Historie och Antikvitets Akademien, 2020.
    Sylla, Brima. Regime Gender Policies and Women’s Political Participation in Post Conflict Liberia. Diss. Walden University, 2020.

    1. Dear Inna,
      Your research and citation practice is always solid and relevant. However, remember not to neglect the essay that is at hand. These questions are directly connected to Arlene Dávila’s essay.

  9. Option 2
    Being that the Tainos were the native people of the Caribbean, their image has been interpreted over time to symbolize the root of Puerto Rican culture. They served as the first inhabitants of many islands, including Cuba, Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands. They encountered the first colonizers of the new world, including Christopher Columbus, on their voyages west. The Spaniards eventually started conquering multiple Taino chiefdoms, beginning the conflicts between the native people of the Caribbean and the European colonizers. Eventually, due to slavery, fighting, famine and illness, the Taino people integrated into the European and African populations in the Caribbean, and they were considered by many to have disappeared.

    It has even been used by some to reinterpret and reshape culture. The U.S. government was guilty of this; reimagining the Taino population as a people that have been long gone from the Island due to Spanish colonization. The Tainos were described as weak and easily controlled. Others accused these actions as minimizing the significance of Tainos on the island, and have actively retold their story as one of virtue and bravery. Ultimately, Taino history has been manipulated multiple times as a political tool of control.

  10. Option 1
    Puerto Ricans are known to include three different cultural backgrounds, Spanish, African, And Taino, and we are taught that these three cultures are “equal”. In Puerto Rico, Taino culture is celebrated and we can see where the legacy of the Taino people lies within our traditions. In addition to this, we recognize that a lot of our music and traditions come from our African heritage, and we are constantly taught about the effects the Spaniards had on us as well. In the reading, the author discusses how these three cultures are not truly regarded equally, and the importance put on our Taino culture diverges our attention from our African and Spaniard history. It does not allow us to see that “The Taino influence has always remained subordinate to Spanish culture” (Davila 38) or that the Taino culture has always been “considered superior to the African element” (Davila 38), as stated in the text. In Puerto Rico, the weight put on to our Taino heritage does not allow for us to learn about our African roots, and leads to an “ongoing reality of racial discrimination directed at “blackness” and things African on the island” (Davila 39). Davila goes on to discuss the lack of celebration of our African roots in everyday life in Puerto Rico, in comparison to how we may often associate many of our other traditions to our Taino culture. Our Taino lineage plays a great role in our everyday lives, and we can see that in a very large way, yet at the same time it has been used to manipulate our ideas of our history, and our current political status. Since we have given such a large importance to one part of our history, a large amount of racial discrimination directed at Afro-descendants can be seen on in the island.

  11. Option 2

    As a means to suppress the Puerto Rican people, political powers have used Taino history as a means to separate people from their culture. Taino’s being the native group of the Caribbeans, were the first to encounter Spanish colonizers, this eventually lead to the mixing of Spanish with Taino and African people. Rather than the direct use of the word Taino, people often referred to them as Puerto Rican Indians. Instead of how on other islands such as Cuba, where their indigenous peoples were referred to as more savage; Puerto Rican Indian’s was a way of downplaying their resistance by making them seem calmer and complacent (pg 36-37). Not only was it used as a means to downplay the capability and strength of the peoples, but it was also a means to strip them of their mixing by taking away their African heritage. As the years develop they continue to be stripped of their roots and culture, to be associated as a territory and constantly under some sort of rule strips them of their strength. This further leads to what people believe are dead cultures, yet we understand the Taino culture and people are still alive and strong. A history that is word of mouth does not die unless one cannot educate others, and now there is more reclaiming of ones history as people find a greater need to learn of their history .

  12. Option 2
    The image of the Taino has been altered and deteriorated since the start of imperialism/colonialism on the island. Not only the original did 90-95% of the population completely were wiped out by murder, sterilization, and disease, but they have since been labeled as powerless despite their huge influence and roots in Puerto Rican culture till this day. The early Spanish colonizers labelled them as savage-like, uneducated and dumb, unlike the reality of them being a very advanced native population who were welcoming and happy people. Past the 1700’s, they were not counted or labelled in the census as Tainos. When US forces that came onto the island Tainos were not only still viewed as weak and uneducated, but as historic and for the most part, non existent. Many were practically forced into many American military campaigns due to poverty, and were juggled between “black” and “white” military groups because of the plethora of racial mixing on the island. Realistically, the Taino people have been mixed among many peoples that have migrated to the island, but are still most prevalent in the arts, language and culture of ALL people from Puerto Rico.

  13. Option 2

    For some the Taino image has been politicized as a middle ground for Puerto Rican cultural identity. It has been established as a pathway to abandon the contributing genetic factors of both the African and Spanish race factors. By subtracting the blackness and whiteness within the Puerto Rican genetic make-up, indigenous Taino inclusion gives the Puerto Rican culture an identity that may seem more of their own. This is to say that rather than embracing all three (Euro Spanish, African Blackness, and Indigenous Taino), Puerto Ricans use the Taino identity as a “racial buffer” or “in between status”. This works in favor of Puerto Rico’s continued status as a commonwealth of the U.S. because it helps feed into ideologies that support white superiority and black inferiority forced upon us as the racial configurations in America.

    Some will paint the history of Taino people as “docile, passive, and compliant” and this serves as the foundation of easily colonized beings. Others use Taino identity as a revolt against the pressure of white conformity and to abandon black oppression. Considering the “revival of Taino identity as boisterously assertive since the 1990’s” one could say that the migrated groups of the 1930’s and 50’s experienced a wake-up call in their treatment that equated their citizenship in the U.S. as second-class beings. Unable to fit in as the superior white and not wanting to be classified as the discriminated black, they grappled with identifying as Taino to preserve as sense of cultural pride and independence. This Taino attachment helped to establish the “quest for a distinct Puerto Rican nationality” that could be considered distinguishable rather than mixed-ish and genetically spliced.

    1. To this day whiteness continues to be centered within many Puerto Rican circles, in the media, politics, academia, etc. España is commonly called “la madre patria” and even pro-independence and nationalist groups have celebrated the Spanish heritage over all the others. As in any colonial situation whiteness still holds power.

      The idea of the “racial buffer” is that, because of anti-blackness, many people of color in Puerto Rico prefer to identify as Taino than as Afro-descendants.

  14. Option 2

    Tainos are indigenous people of the Caribbean, who are largely responsible for a lot of the culture in Puerto Rican families. They were some of the first settlers on many islands, not only Puerto Rico, and there has been a lot of change in the political interpretation of Tainos by many different groups. The Taino population has essentially disappeared due to colonization from the Spanish, and remains largely prevalent in the Puerto Rican culture and population. Taino people have been devalued, and kind of viewed as lesser or weak because of this even though the culture remains alive in Puerto Rican families. Taino culture has also sort of been kept alive in the annual indigenous festival in Jayuya, which is a massive display of culture using dress, music and dance. Despite that, this culture is still viewed as kind go subordinate in Spanish culture. In the 1960s and 70s there was kind of a rise in appreciation for Taino culture through Puerto Rican artists in New York, such as Marcos Dimas, Fernando Salicrup, Nitza Tufino, and Juan Sanchez. Since then, Taino culture has kind of been used as a symbol of ethnic revival with an intent to restore the culture, language and religion that was essentially destroyed. The resurgence and revival of this culture has continued, despite how most of it unfortunately is nearly long gone from colonization.

  15. As a man that not only was born and raised in the island of Puerto Rico, but also lived among Puerto Ricans for almost my entire life (almost 35 years), I would strongly say that there is a lot of misinformation in this essay by Arlene Dávila. First and foremost, the Puerto Rican race is composed of a mix of the indigenous Taínos, the Spaniards that colonized the island, and the Africans that were brought to the island as slaves. If we leave either one of them out, then we would not have what we know and called today as “Puerto Ricans.” The fact that many people in the island identify themselves more with the Taínos is because they were the first ones to live in the island and because they were peaceful, generous, and great fighters. Most importantly, we see the Taínos as the fathers and mothers of our race. Taíno imagery is a reminder of what happened to us and who we are. On the other hand, we also know and recognize that the Spaniards and the Africans are a big part of us. We cannot call ourselves Puerto Ricans if we deny or try to hide our true roots. In case you did not know, that is how Puerto Ricans on the island feel and think about our race. Our education system does not teach about division or skin colors. We do not teach our children that the Tainos were more important than the Africans or vice-versa. We teach our children that the three (Taínos, Spaniards, and Africans) are one, and that is who we are. We teach them our history, without leaving or hiding the truth. Our children on the island learn at a young age to be respectful to our history but most importantly, to be respectful to one another, especially when it comes to racial differences. Puerto Ricans living in the island have enough problems for someone who barely knows Puerto Rico to try to sow the seed of discord among us. That is not who we are. Keep your thoughts and your way of life far away from Puerto Rico. With all due respect to my Professor, Dr. Rojo Robles and my fellow classmates, I do not care how many degrees people have hanging on their walls or how many Puerto Rican books they have read during their lives, there are too many things that people do not learn from books, especially when it comes to our culture and traditions. In the meantime, they can start by learning that we, Puerto Ricans from the island, are not racists and we are not only Tainos.

    1. Pedro, I appreciate your intervention this week (and our conversation). The debate is healthy and it helps us to expand and add nuance to our investigation of Puerto Rican national and Diasporic cultures. Having said that, I disagree with some of your claims, and the way you present your critique:

      .Even if you disagree with Dávila’s main arguments the article is well-researched and she presents its point with evidence and supported by an important bibliography in Spanish and English.

      .To reject her arguments because she writes in English or is based in the Diaspora is not productive. These topics need to be analyzed by people in the archipelago and in the US. Is important to listen to and read each other and challenge the divide between islanders and Diasporicans.

      .Her analysis of race and culture is not an attack on any person’s particular views. She is not denying the cultural conjunctions in Puerto Rico or the anti-racist upbringing of any given person. What she is describing is the ways Taino identity has been contradictorily manipulated by different socio-political-cultural groups. She is exploring the debate on the Taino heritage.

      .By analyzing racial relationships and anti-blackness in Puerto Rico she is not claiming that all Puerto Ricans are racist or that people who celebrate or center Taino culture are racist. Just like the essay we talked about today by Arlene Torres, she is examining mainstream discourses on Taino and Puerto Rican identity and the erasures within those discourses.

      .As you keep engaging in this debate, I invite you to investigate racial data (and also at times the lack of) in Puerto Rico.

      .As Kelly proposed today, I also think this piece could help us elaborate more on the topic:


  16. OPTION 3

    Taino culture, heritage, and the importance it has today for both Puerto Ricans and Americans alike has become a more and more explored topic in recent years. This is certainly a result of the widespread proliferation of activist groups on the behalf of indigenous groups like the Tainos. While this problem may not be a home grown problem in the United States, the fact that several organizations exist to serve this purpose demonstrates my point.

    While it may not be obvious to most why this topic is of interest, it is because many Puerto Rican Americans have Taino heritage without necessarily being aware of this fact. This is particularly important in todays day and age, when we are all trying to make a conscious effort to do more when it comes to respecting the heritage, history, and culture of indigenous groups. As Americans, we can do our part by asking more about Taino cultures, and listening to the stories and perspectives of the people whose ancestors were part of these essential and often forgotten groups.

  17. option 2

    The Tainos for the most part were wiped out by the Spanish when they colonized the island. To remember the Tainos and revive their culture, literature was created by Daniel Rivera for example. He featured the Tainos as the principle characters, conveying a sense of nationalism to fight against the Spanish colonizers. But the Taino culture many times is being portrayed incorrectly amongst the people of Puerto Rico. At times it seems like the Tainos are being mocked,using the Taino name wrongfully rather than a source of pride for the nation. The Tainos were the indigenous people, they must be recognized amongst the community. People in New York and the United States are giving the Tainos more recognition and realizing their legacy more than the people of Puerto Rico. Taino symbolism was used by artists and activists in the United States during the 60’s to express their cultural struggles. Artists like El Taller Boricua used this symbolism and imagery to help fight for their cause, eventually being used by other activist groups like the Young Lords. Many of these artists juxtaposed Taino pictographs with the Puerto Rican flag and other nationalist symbols expressing their themes of nationalism and independence.

  18. A Taíno image has been created after the genocide and erasure of the Taíno by the Spanish colonizers to create a national identity for Puerto Rico. In other words, Taínos and their culture have been used after an effort to erase them from the island in order to construct a culture unique to Puerto Rico. These efforts were pushed for example by the national elite during the 19th century. But as the word image suggests, this does not represent the actual Taíno culture and life, but much rather a fictional, stylized and romanticized image of the Indigenous people of Puerto Rico. It is also a display of cultural appropriation as this manipulation has been pushed by the Spanish authorities, that used Taíno to create a sense of patriotism for an island they invaded, but use the identity of the only group of people that was native to said island. This Taíno symbolism was furthered as well in the following century by the cultural nationalist policies of the commonwealth in the 1950s where is was put equally positioned to the island’s Spanish and African influences. So, not only is Taíno culture misrepresented and misconstrued after the Taíno genocide, but also a non-existent social, cultural and racial integration and equality has been propagandized. In later years, the Taíno influence also has been used as a symbol for Puerto Rico’s nationality ideologies to receive recognition of that heritage, especially in the U.S. mainland.

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