Sunday, September 30, 2007

Puerto Rico: The Four Storeyed Country

David Carr sheds some light on the question of Puerto Rican identity at the following website: .
This is an excellent examination Jose Luis Gonzalez’s argument to Puerto Rico being a four-storeyed country and culture. When Gonzalez came out with his book, he broke down the concept of Puerto Rican culture as being part and partial of a greater Hispanic culture with Spain as the epicenter of that culture. Instead, Gonzalez rightfully described Puerto Rican society and culture as a four-storeyed society with the Caribbean culture being at the backbone of such a culture. We should consider such an analysis when we (especially here in the US) are taught to believe that the Puerto Rican people are some one-dimentional people. Such a view of Puerto Ricans are even advanced by Puerto Rican who like to see Puerto Ricans as some sort of homogenious groups or even some sort of race. It is such ignorant folk who would like to see a "pure" Puerto Rican identity that has no room for Puerto Ricans who are Muslim. Christianity was never indigenious to the island, but was imported from Spain, yet another country that was never fully Christian in the make up of its population (when Columbus sailed from Grenada in 1492 there were lots of Muslim and Jews living in Spain).
Khalil Al-Puerto Rikani
Puerto Rico: The Four Storeyed Country
By, David Carr

To the reader who may have assumed that the issue of Puerto Rican independence involves a monolithic resistance to American Imperialism, Jose Luis Gonzalez’s book Puerto Rico: The Four-Storeyed Country offers a complex look at the many factions involved in the struggle and their different motivations. At the heart of the matter lies the concept of Puerto Rican national identity, how it has been defined, and by whom. Gonzalez charts out the “four storeys” of Puerto Rican identity in an analogy to a house with four floors. Because he determines that the base is African, Taino, and Mestizo, he believes he has defined the first real Puerto Ricans and the ones responsible for an authentic Puerto Rican identity. Of course, he does not discount Spanish influence, nor does he insist that it was only a negative or reactionary force, but he does point out that it was a foreign presence which never contributed to the Puerto Rican identity to the extent that Afro-Mestizo culture, which had developed on the island, did. The line he draws between these first two storeys (defined below) does much to explain the different ideologies applied to resisting U.S. imperialism since 1898.
The four storeys are defined as follows. The first Storey encompasses the black slaves who could not leave Puerto Rico and their contact with the Indian and Mestizo (Taino/European mixed) people and the culture they created. The second storey is made up of the Spanish immigrants who were encouraged to Puerto Rico in an effort to “whiten” the population as a part of the Real Cedula de Gracias of 1815. This was in response to the uprising in Haiti and fears of an overt influence blacks on the island. The third and fourth storeys are the professional class and later a managerial class that was introduced in the “Operation Bootstrap” period under Munoz Marin.
Gonzalez’s arguments revolve around ethnicity and class. In the 19th Century, the first storey people were under the rule of the second storey, who were in turn being exploited by Spain itself prior to 1898. The wave of Spaniards in 1815 displaced much of the older Creole plantation class as far as land ownership. This is described as a foreign presence by Gonzalez, and he points out that many of the Spaniards not only kept their Spanish identity but incorporated some of the cultural development of the first storey people, Blacks and Mestizos.
The Puerto Rican identity as seen by this land owning class was of the Jibaro, or white plantation owner, or even whites who owned smaller farms, mainly in the mountainous area of Puerto Rico. The key piece of literature is El Gibaro, published in 1843 by Manuel Alanso. The book virtually ignores the culture of the Africans and Tainos. Gonzalez offers another view from the same era in the writing of Alajandro Tapia y Rivera who was much more concerned with the immorality of slavery, and even women’s rights which was progressive for his time. Gonzalez points out that although Tapia had enjoyed the highest position in the Puerto Rican canon in the 19th Century, he had been replaced by Alanso in the 20th, which Gonzalez believes is due to the unacceptable criticism of elite Puerto Rican culture.
The portrayal of the past is key to the differing groups in Puerto Rico. Gonzalez points out that the “Creole elites” who were the land owners under the Spaniards, had their power diminished by the U.S. invasion. While they may have believed they would gain from the invasion, perhaps even with statehood, they ended up a colonized and diminishing subgroup to the North American capitalist structure. This led them not only to resist the North American imperialism, but to define the Spanish period as a time of unity between all the classes of Puerto Ricans. Gonzalez controversially appoints Pedro Albizu Campos as the figure head for this backward looking group. He quotes Albizu as inaccurately describing the Spanish period as “the old collective happiness” (4). It is true that Albizu was largely interested in transferring wealth to the Puerto Rican owning class and away from imperialists, and was not an anti-capitalist (nor necessarily a pro-capitalist) and this is why Gonzalez uses him to personify the resistance of the elite class. As Gerald Guinness points out in his introduction, this has brought some criticism from those who value Albizu’s tough resistance, which involved being arrested and actual armed combat.
But to Gonzalez, a figure like Eugenio Maria de Hostos, a pro-independence writer, had a more accurate view of the past under Spain which he described as “lived under the sway of barbarity” (4). This points out that the resistance to U.S. imperialism was itself divided between the “culture of the oppressed and the culture of the oppressor,” a concept borrowed loosely from Marx. For Gonzalez, the U.S. imperial presence, while rightfully resisted by both of these groups was also feared by the “oppressor” class as a threat to their power, and partially embraced by the “oppressed” as a tool to resist the old Creole elite class. Labor organizing improved under U.S. occupancy in a way never possible under the Spaniards, who were quicker to criminalize efforts to raise wages or otherwise improve conditions. Gonzalez is careful to point out that this is not an apology for U.S. imperialism, merely an honest assessment of why the motivations of the two resistance groups were different. One was conservative with a goal of retaining power for an old elite, while the other was far more socialist.
As for the question of Puerto Rican identity, Gonzalez shows us that the efforts to define the national identity break down on these class lines, which stem from the ethnic origins of Spanish land owners on the one hand, and Black and Mestizo slaves (later workers) on the other. It has been pointed out by Guinness that this ethnic definition is harder to maintain in present day Puerto Rico (the fact that Albizu was black points out the complexity of arguing the case along ethnic lines), but that the reader may decide for him or herself how much weight to give the argument.. Puerto Rican identity, one could safely say, is a duality. There definitely is a Spanish element. There is also a Black and Mestizo element. Gonzalez's essential point is that the Spanish element represents a foreign component, while the Black and Mestizo elements are a native creation which underlay Puerto Rican culture as developed on the island itself, and therefore can be rightly described as the Puerto Rican National identity. This identity is also part of a larger Caribbean identity, and not merely a subgroup of North American or Spanish culture.

No comments:

Post a Comment