Puerto Rico, Who Are You?

Sunset over the bay, from Old San Juan.

Latin America encompasses parts of two continents, hundreds of islands, and peoples and cultures too numerous to list.  Yet we use catch-all words like Latin American, Hispanic, and Latino to refer to anyone born anywhere in this vast territory.  The theme of layered and overlapping identities courses through the literature of Latin America.  You find it in the fiction of Borges, in the poetry of Neruda, and in the tirades of Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who nevertheless dreamed of unifying these peoples with their varied origins and experiences of Spanish colonial rule and foreign imposition.

Cemetery below el Castillo del Morro

The people of Latin America are Colombian, Mexican, Argentinean, Chilean, Bolivian, Guatemalan, and Puerto Rican.  They are Incan, Aztec, Mayan, Aymara, Quilmes, and Olmec.  They hail from Europe, Africa, North America, South America, and Asia.  Their cultures are at once young and old, their religions indigenous and imported. 

The people of Latin America are complicated and multifarious.  They express their multiplicity of identities through their art, their architecture, their language, and their religion.  I have felt this complexity in Mexico, Perú, Chile, Argentina, and the United States.  Now, I’ve felt it and seen it in Puerto Rico, where in a single day in Old San Juan one may set foot on Spanish forts that date back nearly five-hundred years, stroll along narrow blue cobble stone streets that would not be out of place in Europe, eat lunch at McDonald’s, speak Spanish and English in the same sentence, and mail a letter via the United States Postal Service.

The beginning of Condado Beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Little evidence remains of the original inhabitants of this island.  Their blood courses through its people now, but one sees little in the way of ruins left over from the days before Europeans sailed toward Puerto Rico’s shores, unleashed themselves on this fertile land, and enslaved the people who variously welcomed, resisted, and fled from them. 

Spaniards have conquered this island, the British have bombarded it, pirates have marauded it, and Americans have occupied it.  Disparate tribes have mixed, tourists have invaded, and what emerges from these vicissitudes and whims of history is what we call Puerto Rico.  Ask me to describe Puerto Rico and though I may attempt to trace a rough outline of the country and its people, in the end I’ll throw up my hands and say, “Go there.”

Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Condado Beach, San Juan, Puerto Rico.


Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.


From el Castillo del Morro, Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

About atomsofthought
Photographer. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

12 Responses to Puerto Rico, Who Are You?

  1. Michelle says:

    Wonderful pictures – especially love the cat on the rocks and the balconies over the narrow street, and also the one at the bottom with the wave and the one all the way to the right of that one.

  2. Steve Bromley says:

    Love the conclusion. This should be in a travel mag.

  3. anda says:

    I agree that you should send it to a travel mag. Really good!

  4. Love the pictures. Thank you for sharing.

  5. tupacgr13 says:

    I absolutely loved the pictures some of them are highly recommended for some travel magazines I think 😀

  6. Anonymous says:

    Yes, it’s been raining cats and dogs here since the last week of April… In my 36 years living here, I had never seen something quite like it. Must be the global warming thing…

    It’s always enlightening to watch my country through the eyes of a foreigner. It makes me realize, every time it happens, how insulated we live here, in our little cocoon, thinking that this amalgam of cultural and political elements that is us is completely normal, when in reality it is… not.

    I’m in a reflective mood after President Obama’s visit to the island yesterday. I don’t know what to make of it. Its main purpose was clearly a fund-raising activity. Yes, he met and talked with a couple of the political leaders here, but the bulk of his visit went to raise funds for his next electoral campaign. I’ve always liked President Obama. But what happened yesterday left me feeling, I don’t know, “used”…? I know it’s a strong word, and I don’t mean it in a personal way, obviously, but in a collective sense, we as a people, were used yesterday afternoon by a politician from Washington to further his reelection efforts among the Hispanic communities of the continental US, and we can’t even vote for him! That’s the tragic irony of it all.

    So, I understand it when you say that you cannot explain in a satisfactory way what Puerto Rico IS. The gist of the matter is, we ourselves don’t even know!

    Beautiful pictures!

  7. I’m sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment! I hope you come back to read this 🙂

    I understand what you mean about the president’s visit, especially not knowing exactly what to make of it. Clearly he went for political gain. I hope he went for something more, too, and that some good comes of his visit, that it at least starts or furthers constructive conversations. I won’t pretend to understand the complexity of being Puerto Rican, but I do sense that it yours IS complex identity. I’m glad I got a chance to visit. I will be back!

    I appreciate your comment! It’s great to hear from a puertorriqueño/a!

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