Today is...  

As an amateur historian, I have no intention of re-writing history... so please abstain from shooting in this direction if you happen to disagree with me. I just want to, if you'll allow me, add a little bit more of light unto the data we already have. Remember... "a picture is worth a thousand words." Therefore, memory is worth having, especially for those of us who weren't there.  If you travel to some areas in Puerto Rico, you might be able to see some traces of all those years ago. Everything was simple, significant and impacting. Your Grandma told you about those times. ¿Didn't she?

Thanks to Jack Delano and the remarkably written "Cinco Siglos de Historia" (McGraw-Hill) by Fajardo's own Francisco Scarano of the University of  Wisconsin at Madison. Also thanks to the great photographer Tom Lehman


Jibaro walks past the national Flamboyán Tree beyond his "casita.

 


Caserio en Ponce 1942
The first housing projects were not concrete apartments as became in the 1950s and 60s, but individual houses with their own outhouses (letrinas)

 


It may be unusual for a little gir to have a pet-pig but not in the 1940s

 

 


A Puerto Rican Plaza (town square) is an open public space found in the heart of a traditional town used for community gatherings. Most town plazas are hardscapes suitable for open markets, music concerts, political rallies, and other events that require firm ground. Being centrally located, they are usually surrounded by small shops such as bakeries, meat markets, cheese stores, and clothing stores. At their center is often a fountain, well, monument, or statue.


The apparent poverty was because PR depended in the agricultural economy,  whose profits didn't stay within the Island, as many of the companies were owned for foreign investors.

 

 


When I was a kid in the 50s, street funerals were common. Hearses were used by the wealthy. People walked all the way from the Funeral Home to the cemetery, men often taking turns carrying the coffin. This one is a smaller casket, probably a young person.


The cart pulled by two oxen was a common sight in 1903. Poverty was so rampant that everybody is virtually skinny, even the poor oxen, yet they did their work. Spain had left 5 years earlier and had taken everything... even the kitchen sink. Notice the ubiquitous straw hut in the background. That was affordable housing. ¡AY, BENDITO!

This political cartoon, published in 1898, shows a cynical but not inaccurate view of how Puerto Ricans received the "invader" USA. The great Puerto Rican historian Francisco Scarano, comments on how joyous was the reception by the many local communities... "with cordial enthusiasm that verged into carnival-like happiness... what the mayor of Yauco called 'a miracle intervention by the God of the just'." 

Although it may appear irreverent, the illustration depicts the sentiment. Spain was determined to break the Spirit of Freedom that permeated Puerto Ricans who had been working towards some form of autonomy. After the remarkably blatant and cruel abuse the Spanish Crown used to keep Boricuas "in line", anything was welcome. The one Pezuela had terrorized the island's population to the point of sheer desperation.

One has to remember that the Spanish ruled the Island despotically and with an iron fist, to put it mildly. Just eleven years earlier, in what history calls "The Terrible Year of 1887", one Spanish governor, Romualdo Palacio was so mean that he instituted a series of "compontes" or tortures to those who boycotted Spain's monopoly on merchant goods. Some of these included hanging men by their genitals (ouch!) and drowning their heads in "letrinas" (outhouses).

Bowling (Bolera) c.1900

Boricuas were sophisticated enough to go bowling in the outskirts of San Juan. Notice that the pins are thinner are arranged differently. Also, the ball is smaller. The Foraker Act of 1900 hads instituted USA government officially in Puerto Rico. Community life changed dramatically and unexpectedly.

The U.S.A. Invasion
T
his photo depicts the US troops after landing in Ponce, in what the newspapers call "a picnic war". From the casualties inflicted to both sides, about 157, only a small number (less than 20%) were by actual combat. Many deaths were attributed to lack of medical attention due to diseases acquired during the course of the relatively short war.

One of the main "lamentos borincanos" (boricua laments) was the legality of the invasion; "ilegal" because Spain had already granted PRs a "partial autonomy" in the "Carta Autonómica del 25 de Noviembre del 1897"... That autonomy had drafted ideas and socio-political reforms which never came to pass because "somebody" sank the American ship, the USS Maine in Havana, Cuba... triggering thus the conflict.  HOWDAYALIKEDAT? Even though the US had placed a naval blockade a few weeks earlier, there was no shooting until May 12, 1898... when Adm. William Sampson blessed the southern part of Puerto Rico with a rain of torpedoes that would last only three hours.

So there you have it, folks... a "titingó" that we called the Spanish American War (Guerra Hispano-Americana) blew up on April 21 of 1898. However, in the Treaty of Paris eight months later (Dec. 10), United States would pay Spain $20 million dollars as indemnification, ergo... money paid in compensation for loss of the Philippines, Cuba and Puerto Rico! Nice, huh?

San Juan City Hall and Plaza de Armas, 1941

After the Great Depression of 1929, being a territory of the USA for for over 30 years, Puerto Rico suffered as much, if not more than other states in the mainland. The local economy depended on American stability. Inferred by the photo above, Boricuas are transitioning from a basically agricultural economy to an industrial one; one that will eventually will support the partial autonomy obtained in later years. The ubiquitous 5&10 cent store (5-10-25¢) on the right will mold a pattern to be emulated by small merchants in almost all towns throughout the Island. The San Juan City Hall is on the left serving as a stop for the Trolley cars


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