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Puerto Rico: a beautiful island with a fiercely proud people

By Ardain IsmaThe Hispanic population in the United States has increased tremendously in the past few decades. Approximately 31 million people are identified as Hispanics. Hispanics are the largest minority group in the United States and make up 19 percent of the population of Florida. While Puerto Ricans are often viewed as an underclass people in the United States and some time overlooked or mistaken for other Hispanic group, they make up a large portion of Spanish speakers here.            Puerto Rico is an island located in the Caribbean Sea. Puerto Rico is often referred to as Borinquen. Puerto Ricans refer to themselves as Puertorriqueños or Boricuas. Boricua is used as a term that indicates belonging. Puerto Ricans are a fiercely proud group. The most prominent symbol of their display of pride is the Puerto Rican flag, which is seen displayed on everything, from bumper stickers to clothing and even seen on shoes. Many adults have even tattooed the flag on their bodies. Mi Orgullo, directly translated as My Pride, often accompanies the flag, leaving no doubt about the level of pride and importance of belonging. Puerto Ricans who do not display their pride are often criticized by other Puerto Ricans.            Before Puerto Rico was discovered by the Spaniards, it was inhabited by Taino Indians. Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain and discovered Puerto Rico on November 19, 1493. Juan Ponce de Leon colonized the island in 1508 and became its first governor. Spanish Conquistadores were looking for gold and made slaves of the Taino, nearly eliminating them. Africans were also brought to the island as slaves. As a result Puerto Rico also has a rich African culture. There is an indication that the history of exploitation by Europeans is still cause for a mistrust of its descendants. Many Puerto Ricans actually protest the American Columbus Day holiday. The island became a US protectorate since the turn of the 20th century, following the Spanish-American war. American culture has had a progressive effect upon Puerto Rican culture. Some Puerto Ricans are not happy with that influence. Because of the American influence, Puerto Rico is caught between two diverse cultures.            Both Spanish and English are official languages of Puerto Rico. Spanish is by far the most widely spoken. Despite English being taught as a second language, from kindergarten through high school on the island, less than 20 percent of Puerto Rican islanders speak English fluently, according to the 1990 Census. Preserving the Spanish language within the family is a common practice in most Hispanic homes. This practice creates an obvious barrier to becoming fluent in English language. There is still some resistance to assimilate to American culture, because doing so is seen as straying from one’s heritage.The Puerto Rican family, like many Hispanic families, is usually very close. The family usually goes beyond the nuclear family to include grandparents and other extended family members. In most Hispanic families, the father is the head of the household, responsible for all major decision-making; and the mother is responsible for the home and childcare. Family members feel a moral responsibility to help other members of the family with problems they may be having. Families gather often to celebrate holidays, birthdays, weddings, and religious ceremonies. Puerto Ricans are known for their friendliness and warmth. Hand gestures and animated movements are often used in daily conversation. They tend to interrupt each other frequently sometimes finishing another’s thought, and are not upset when this happens. Many will stand close to one another in social settings, which is uncomfortable for many Americans who require a larger personal zone. Moving away from someone who is speaking to you may be considered offensive or insulting. A friendly handshake is the customary greeting, but often a head nod serves the same purpose. Men who are close friends will hug, and women friends will hug and kiss on the cheek. In casual conversations between Spanish speakers, the conversations are usually loud, fast, and include gestures and body language to emphasize points.Puerto Ricans, like many Hispanics, give a lot of attention to personal appearance as a sense of honor and pride. Materialism is very common among Puerto Rican youth. This is displayed in their choice of gold jewelry, designer clothing, and popular brand shoes. The girls give much attention and time to physical appearance. Puerto Rican culture stresses a very strong gender difference. The predominant value of machismo sees males as superior to females and objectifies them. Aggressiveness is viewed as a positive trait for males. The female equivalent of machismo isetiqueta, a complex value system that requires Latina women to be both feminine and pure, and at the same time very sensual and seductive. There is little expectation for females to strive for achievements outside of domestic roles—another obvious barrier to education.The quinceanera tradition is an important social ritual to commemorate the transition from adolescence to womanhood. The quinceanera takes place on a girl’s fifteenth birthday. The celebration often includes a religious ceremony at church, more often practiced in the Catholic Church, although other religions have similar services to celebrate the young woman’s coming of age followed by a party. Nearly 85 percent of Puerto Ricans are of Catholic faith.          The girl wears an extravagant white or pastel ball gown, similar to a wedding gown. During the festivities, males take turns dancing with the girl and it is customary the first dance is danced with her father. Dinner is often included as part of the night’s festivities and the cutting of a multi-tiered cake.          When including Hispanics in learning, you must first gain and maintain trust. Displaying respect is another important aspect. Teachers need to give individual attention to students. Teachers must always remember that even though Hispanics share the same language, their cultures may vary considerably. Puerto Ricans, like other Hispanic groups, become annoyed with Americans referring to them as Mexican, Cuban, or another Hispanic other than what they are. Americans often dismiss the correction by saying all Hispanics are the same. They find it frustrating that Americans are so misinformed or insensitive.         Puerto Ricans tend to be more relaxed about punctuality than Americans. Within the Hispanic community, not being on time is socially acceptable—not so different from other Caribbean natives. This orientation toward time is in contrast to Americans preoccupation with time.         Understanding some of the basic points of Puerto Rican culture will assist educators in connecting with students. As a result the cultural gap is more likely to be bridged, thereby creating a successful learning environment.NoteDr. Ardain Isma is the chief editor of CSMS Magazine. He teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova southeastern University.Also see Japanese culture:http: //www.csmsmagazine.org/news.php?pg=20061001I284

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