by Marisabel Brás
Documenting a Puerto Rican Identity
Of all the former Spanish colonies in the Americas, Puerto Rico, the smallest island of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean Sea, was the only territory that never gained its political independence. The years between 1800 and 1930, however, paved the way for the formation and development of its political institutions and national identity. The keys to the internal dynamics and the dramatic socio-economic transformation that the island experienced throughout this period were the political and economic struggles of a decaying Spanish Empire and the formal transfer of the island to the United States at the end of the 1898 Spanish-American War. It is in this context that Puerto Rico's traditions, political institutions, and economic system evolved so that it may be considered a "modern" nation. This essay highlights some of the most important historical events, beginning in the 1800s, that contributed to the definition of Puerto Rico's historical and cultural identity.
The introduction of the printing press to Puerto Rico in 1806 permitted the publication of a wealth of historical and political material throughout the 1800s. The result was the development of a national political discourse and the definition of a Puerto Rican cultural identity. Publications from the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, including chronicles, historical essays, political debates, memoirs, government records, and newspaper articles, document the socio-political dynamics on the island during the last century of Spanish rule and the early period of colonial government under the United States. Puerto Rico at the Dawn of the Modern Age: Nineteenth- and Early-Twentieth-Century Perspectives includes a wide range of publications from the early 1800s through the 1930s, revealing the richness and complexity of Puerto Rico's political and socio-economic realities during a critical historical period and the steady progression of a national project that has defined Puerto Ricans as a people.