Is there racism in Puerto Rico? This is a question I get way too often, and one that would have confused me several years ago, but after living in the U.S. for several years, and given the latest news about what is going on over there, it is easy to see why some are concerned. After all, if you come from any other country that is not Puerto Rico, you will be the “minority”. So I will try to explain my experiences as best I can, but I must warn, this is only my perception and possibly the perception of many others who are very close to me and are from other countries.
Keep in mind, like the U.S. we also had slavery and we had the Taíno Indians living here before the Spanish invaded the island. However for some reason they all mingled and made us what we are today, a nice mixture of European, African, and Native Taíno Indian.
So, is there racism in Puerto Rico?
-Yes. But only because I refuse to say no. Have I seen it? Experienced it? Know anyone who have been a victim of racism? NO, NO, and NO. This includes people from many countries and from many races. Including but not limited to, Black, Caucasian, Asian, European, Central and South American.
To put things in perspective, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visited Puerto Rico in 1962 and 1964, he seemed to like the people here quite a bit and he said:
“In the United States, a man’s color determines what class he belongs to; in Puerto Rico a man’s class determines what color he is.”
So, it seems that he felt that whatever was going on with color and racism in the U.S., he must have felt that Puerto Rico was not experiencing the same problems. Things are just different here.
I have a co-worker who is an African-American woman from Boston. She’s in her 50s and have lived in Puerto Rico for about 8 years. She confessed that as she’s nearing retirement age she’s thinking about moving back to the U.S. in order to live the last few years of her life near her family. But that she may prolong retirement for one main reason, she doesn’t want to experience racism and discrimination again. She told me that in the time she’s been here she’s not experienced racism or discrimination at all, not once! She recently went on a 3-day trip to Florida and she heard people screaming “N this and N that”! It almost made her cry. To think that she couldn’t be in her country for 3 days without experiencing that! She couldn’t wait to come back to Puerto Rico, where people treat her with respect.
While I was growing up here in Puerto Rico, I learned about discrimination and racism. By experience? NO! Only in books and on TV. I never really thought it was a real thing until I moved to the U.S. It was quite an eye-opener when I visited a small town in mid-western U.S. and I told the clerk at a small store that I loved the little town and that I would love to live in a place like that! The clerk replied by saying that I’d never be liked in that town because I’m not white and not from there. I was really taken back, I thought I didn’t hear right he then said that this is no place for outsiders and to have a nice day. I was really confused for several hours after that. A few college friends confirmed that in fact that is the way it is in those small towns.
So, even though the racism in Puerto Rico is low enough to not be very noticeable (again, I refuse to say there is none), what are some things to watch out for or keep in mind?
Well for starters the term “Gringo”. Legend says that the term “Gringo” was born when the Mexicans were telling the U.S. soldiers (which were dressed in green) to go away and to stop invading their land by saying “Green Go”. Then somehow the term “Gringo” started to be used to refer to every person from the U.S. The term “Gringo”, although not politically correct, it is not meant to be an insult. Some people have told me that they feel that Gringo is a racial slur and that they are offended by it. Well, that’s different than racism or racial discrimination. Just the other day I saw an older woman smile and kiss a woman from the U.S. while she said “Que bellas son las Gringa”! (The Gringas are so beautiful!) I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t seem like hate behind those words. I grew up saying “Gringo” because “Estadounidense” (United Statian) is too long to say. I don’t say it anymore really so I don’t offend anyone, but I never meant any disrespect when I used it, and most other people don’t mean disrespect either.
The term “American”. Now this is one that bothers many people here. Why? Because it is ambiguous and because of the fact that the United States is NOT America but PART of America, hence The United States of America. In Puerto Rico, as well as many other Hispanic countries, the proper term for someone from the U.S. is “Estadounidense” or what would be “United Statian” (Maybe United Stadian?). So if you refer to the U.S. as America you might get a few people take a deep breath and hold back a few choice words out of respect. After all, Chile, Mexico and Canada are no less “American” as the United States. So just as an F.Y.I., that does bother some people here.
Now, after saying this, I have to be fair. There is one group of people from a particular country that may argue that they experience some racism or discrimination. These people are those from the Dominican Republic. For some reason, we have a huge number of people from the Dominican Republic that come to Puerto Rico illegally in search of a better life. So even though there is really no animosity or hate (except when their sports team plays against ours LOL), some people get “ticked” when the subject arises. One example that got some people mad is when the Governor of Puerto Rico allowed all undocumented immigrants from the Dominican Republic to be able to get a legal driver’s license in Puerto Rico. It doesn’t help that many of the immigrants have little education and find jobs in things like gardening, construction, maid services etc.
But even with that, I and so many others refer to the people of the Dominican Republic as our brothers. You will hear many people say that the Dominican Republic is where our brothers and sisters live, and although I have never had the pleasure of visiting them, I hear it is a beautiful place. I work and know many people from the Dominican Republic and none of them have told me that have felt unwelcome or disrespected here. I however like to be as real as I can and I know that if there was a group of people that could say they are being discriminated against it would be the people from the Dominican Republic.
So, Is there racism in Puerto Rico? I honestly think that there is very little. We are however extremely politically incorrect people, so you or someone else may be offended over something we do or say. More than likely though, we mean no disrespect.
So, if you are concerned about being discriminated against and you come from the U.S. let me tell you one more thing. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, my conversational English is quite good. I prefer to speak English here because I get treated much better than if I were to speak Spanish. If I were you, I wouldn’t worry much, what you see on TV happen in the U.S. due to racial differences do not happen here. Just be a nice person, and people here will treat you nicely, we don’t like arrogant people or people who feel superior to others. As long as you are nice you’ll be just fine.
Hope this helps.
P.S. I’m sure I’ll get some comments from people who felt they were discriminated against. If you are one of those please, respectfully, share your experience. Thank you.