On a recent trip to Puerto Rico with my friend Monica, I was curious to know why Puerto Ricans are stereotyped as being “loud”,
The island of PR is small. My friend told me that sometimes it doesn’t even show on maps. A simple Google search of various maps made me aware that this is indeed true. Depending on the map publisher, the island of PR may not exist at all. It makes me wonder, since the Lesser Antilles are much smaller islands than PR, why is it that the archipelago appears on the map? Perhaps because it’s a grouping of islands? Most likely… Other times, PR does appear, but it’s so small, there is no room to add its name. It’s just a drawing of an unnamed piece of land. So, it’s just another little piece of land in the Caribbean Sea.
I was told about the “coqui” – a tiny little frog that sings at night. It’s so tiny, you can’t see it. And what a beautiful song it sings! Their singing is loud, especially in areas with lots of vegetation. And even though you may think that one is close to you and you go looking for it, you will not see it.
One day, I heard a sound coming from a tree nearby. I asked what it was and my friend was prompt to tell me that it was a múcaro. “What is a múcaro?”, I asked. “It’s an owl, only very small and you won’t be able to see it”, said my friend. It measures about 9 inches!
I had also heard about the Puerto Rican parrot, considered to be a “critically endangered species”. I asked my friend about this native bird – what it looked like; how big was it; how many there were – and I learned that the efforts in trying to breed them have been somewhat successful and that they mostly live in the rain forest, where they are protected. They are green and they are very small, so unless you see them flying in a flock, you won’t be able to see them at all.
We then visited the Camuy Caves – the third largest underground river system in the world – and a tour inside these magnificent caves revealed that in the water ponds inside the cave, there lives an almost microscopic “shrimp”, almost transparent in color and blind. Which means, you can’t see it.
It was fun to watch the green iguanas roaming everywhere, but my friend quickly clarified that green iguanas are not native to PR. They were introduced and have become an invasive nuisance. Puerto Rico does have some endemic iguanas – the large ones measuring up to 6 ft are found in other islands that are part of the Puerto Rican archipelago. The one found in the main island in everyone’s yard is a much smaller version of the iguana as we know it.
So, it would be safe to say that everything in Puerto Rico is small, sometimes so small, you can’t see them.
As I learned more about the political relationship Puerto Rico has with the United States, things started to make sense.
Puerto Rico is a colony of the US and has been for over 100 years. Prior to that, PR was a colony of Spain for about 400 years. So, aside from when it used to be Boriken (a free Taino Indian-inhabited pre-Colombian island), Puerto Rico has been the “little guy” owned by the “big guys”. And its people are confused about which direction to go: independent country, a state of the US or a “free but independent state” or commonwealth of the US.
Puerto Ricans are American citizens. They travel and move to and from other states as any other American citizen does. Yet, they are “invisible”. It would be easy to call them the Invisible Americans. They are considered immigrants when they clearly are not. Or when discussing issues related to Latinos or Hispanics, most of the discourse and rhetoric used by the media relates to Mexicans or at a lesser extent, Cubans. So, within the Hispanic population, they are bulked into one main category – if you’re Hispanic then you must be Mexican; and when acknowledged as Puerto Rican, they are still considered immigrants. Even worse, sometimes they are completely mistaken by a whole different nationality altogether – Costa Ricans.
Wait! There is something worse: Internet purchases. When purchasing over the Internet and you scroll down to find your country, PR is not listed (because it is NOT a country). When you use US as your country (because it is a US territory), and you want to enter your address and state… oops, there is no PR state (because it is not a state). So Puerto Ricans are invisible even in the World Wide Web!
From my friend, and my trip to PR, I have learned some amazing things about PR and its people. Here is a short list of well-known “facts” commonly heard from Puerto Ricans:
– Puerto Rican coffee is the best in the world. It’s so good, this is the coffee that the Pope drinks. Some say it’s the oficial coffee of the Vatican.
– The Camuy Caves System is the 3rd largest underground river system in the world.
– The Arecibo Observatory? The largest radiotelescope in the world!
– El Yunque? The ONLY rain forest in the US National Forest System
– The Bioluminiscent Bay is something else! There are 5 in the world and PR has 3 of them!
– Some of the beaches have been rated the best in the world
– The San Juan Cathedral and San Jose Church are the two oldest churches in the Western Hemisphere
– La Fortaleza is the oldest (continuously working) executive mansion in the New World.
– El Morro and San Marcos Fortresses (both in Old San Juan) are the oldest in the US
– Old San Juan is a UNESCO site as well as various other places in PR
– Walmart Puerto Rico broke selling records of all Walmart stores
– ‘Plaza Las Americas’ mall in San Juan is the most profitable mall per square foot in the world and the largest mall in the entire Caribbean Basin.
– Puerto Rico is the “country” with the most cars per square mile in the world: 146 vehicles per street mile and 4,300 vehicles per square mile.
– The highest grossing Borders book store in US was located in Plaza Las Americas Mall. Too bad they closed. It was my favorite store too!
– The busiest Toys “R” Us in the world is also in Plaza Las Americas
– The highest grossing Sears store in the World is in Puerto Rico.
– The highest selling Kmart in the US is in Puerto Rico.
– The Radio Shack store in Plaza Las Americas mall is the busiest and highest grossing Radio Shack in the world.
– The largest JC Penney store in the world (a full 4 stories) is located at Plaza Las Americas mall
– Piña Colada was “born” in PR in 1954.
– Puerto Rico has won the Miss Universe pageant a record five times.
– The place in the world with more pharmaceutical companies per square mile is Puerto Rico.
– There are about 1,100 people per square mile, a ratio higher than within any of the 50 states in the United States.
– Puerto Rico is the third “country” in the world with more physicians in proportion to its population.
– The longest pool in the world is located in a hotel in Dorado, PR. (The hotel is currently closed).
– It is estimated that there is more Nickel in the mountains of Puerto Rico than the whole United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.
– The state of Florida was discovered by Puerto Rico’s first governor, Don Juan Ponce de Leon.
– The first shot fired by the United States in World War I was in Puerto Rico by Lt. Teofilo Marxuach.
– 86% of the rum consumed in the world is from Puerto Rico – Bacardi
– Puerto Rico has one of the world’s highest productivity ratios.
– Puerto Rico ranks 6th in the world when it comes to college graduates (considering it’s a tiny island)
– Puerto Rico has more gas stations, churches, cars, roads, and Walgreens per square mile than any other country in the world.
– The second radio station to be inaugurated in the US was in PR. Sally Jesse Raphael’s first gig in the media was in PR.
– The first Emmy went to Puerto Rican Jose Ferrer, who also got the Academy award for the same role.
– Rita Moreno (from PR) received both of those and one for Best Actress in a Broadway show. No one else has matched that.
– The most outstanding soldier in Europe at the end of the Second WW was chosen from the Puerto Rican 65th Infantry. (See BorinqueneersCongressional Gold Medal Alliance at http://www.65thcgm.org)
So, I’ve been thinking:
Like in Alice in Wonderland, when you visit PR, everything will seem small to you, because they are small. So, when you hear a Puerto Rican talking loud, remember that they are like their coqui frog – sometimes invisible, but loud enough to always be heard.