Wednesday, September 07, 2011

PRp (Pt. II): Borinquen, gateway to the Americas

Puerto Rico promise: In 2002, I was reunited with my cousin Danny after several years.  Danny and I share a wealth of memories from our childhood.  At that time, I promised him that I would visit him and his family at their home.  (They were then living on Guam.)  Nine years later, I made good on that promise when Maty and I went to visit Danny and family at their new home in Humacao, Puerto Rico.

Read Part I, Delayed in Dallas, here

San Juan cityscape, as seen from the walls of El Morro
Human beings have been living on this island for perhaps 5000 years.  The first people, the Orotoids, came up from the great land mass which is today called South America.  When Spanish settlers arrived, in the 16th century, the Orotoids were long gone.  The residents at that time were the Taíno, who named the island Borinquen.  But the Spaniards viewed the Taíno as just another resource at their disposal, another bounty to be had at the gateway to the newly-discovered world of America.  Spanish empire-builders and the Catholic Church enslaved the Taíno, eradicated their culture, and forcibly converted them to Christianity.  Taíno blood still runs in the 4 million Puerto Ricanos of today, but it is much diluted with the blood of Europeans and Africans.

Una escultura de la celebración de los raíces
The Spaniards held onto the island, by hook and by crook, for 400 years until 1898, when the United States claimed her at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War.  Today, Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, with her own governor and territorial government.  Puerto Ricans cannot vote in national elections, nor do they have representation in the United States Congress.  The issue of statehood is hotly-contested amongst the Puerto Ricans as well as within Congress.  (You can be sure that Republicans will resist a State of Puerto Rico, which would certainly be as "blue" as any state in the nation.)

There, at the far end of the street --that's the Governor's Mansion
San Juan is the most populace city on the island, with some 400,000 residents. Originally, San Juan was a walled township, founded by Ponce de Leon in 1509.  Today, San Juan is a sprawling metropolis, extending far beyond the original city walls.  But the walls still stand, defining the area called Viejo San Juan (or Old San Juan).

One of 5 gateways from the harbor into Viejo San Juan
In 16th century San Juan, Spanish deference to La Iglesia manifested itself by causing the settlement's church with its crucifix-topped spire, dedicated to John the Baptist, to be built atop the most prominent height on the headlands.  When the ships arrived from Europe after weeks at sea, debarking voyagers entered the city on their knees, ascending the cobblestone streets to the church, in a show of gratitude to El Señor for having safely arrived.

Monarch caterpillar in Viejo San Juan
Today, Viejo San Juan is undertaking to become a World Heritage Site, which will afford her protections and assistance in preservation. 

Palomas en la pared
Cousins Danny and Taylor, and Maty and I walked around Viejo San Juan and took in this brightly-colored, fascinating place.  I exhausted the battery on my camera shooting photos.

Cigar seller's window display
Cousin Taylor, Maty, and una doña de la ciudad, having a laugh
Time-etched walls
Proud colors

Puerto Rican graffiti art
To be continued...

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