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Puerto Rico - People

Puerto Rico is Spanish in atmosphere and culture. Gringos are white foreigner while Borinquas are native Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans living on this small island (35 miles wide and 100 miles long) inhabit one of the most crowded spots of the globe. According to the United Nations, it is second only to populous Bangladesh as the most densely populated territory on earth with in excess of 800 persons per square mile.

According to the 2000 U.S. census, the island of Puerto Rico has a population of slightly over 3.8 million compared to 3.15 million in 1990. There are also another 3.4 million Puerto Ricans residing in the United States, largely in metropolitan areas such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Orlando. New York City has the distinction of possessing more Puerto Rican inhabitants than any city in Puerto Rico.

More Puerto Ricans now live in Florida than in the capital of San Juan. These mainland residents are an outgrowth of a migratory shift in the Puerto Rican population that began in the 1950s and 1960s largely as a result of rapid population growth and poor economic opportunities on the island. More than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island of 3.5 million people in recent years because of an economic crisis that has seen schools shut down and a shortage nurses and doctors.

Since the late 19th century, Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States has been characterized by the continual migration of people from the island to the mainland. Some scholars have characterized this as one of Puerto Rico’s most constant historical realities. By the 1950s, the flow of Puerto Ricans to the mainland United States had increased so drastically that historians dubbed the phenomenon the “Great Migration.” An estimated 470,000 people—or 21 percent of the island’s total population—left Puerto Rico for the United States between 1950 and 1960. By the end of the decade, 30 percent of all native-born Puerto Ricans were living on the mainland, primarily in colonias, dense, centralized neighborhoods inhabited predominantly by Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic Americans. In 1950, 80 percent of mainland Puerto Ricans lived in New York City. By the mid-1970s, 12 percent of New York City’s inhabitants claimed Puerto Rican roots. By the early 1970s, more than 30 U.S. cities had populations of more than 10,000 Puerto Ricans.

Migration had an “Alice in Wonderland” effect, that is, the economy had to run very fast just to stand still because, during that period, Puerto Rico’s birthrate was 35 per 1,000, while its death rate had dropped to only 7 per 1,000, so the population was growing rapidly. This migration trend was still occurring in the 1990s when on average 6,500 people per year left the island. Although Puerto Rico’s population is still growing, its rate of increase is declining and may not be sufficient to replace itself (0.6 percent/year) in the long term.

The island’s population is primarily urban (72 percent), with greater San Juan having a metropolitan population in excess of 1 million. The remaining 28 percent is spread throughout the rural areas except for restricted commonwealth or federal lands. Puerto Rico has one of the highest population densities in the world, in excess of 450 per square kilometer (1,100 people per square mile). Population density in metropolitan San Juan is about 4000 per square kilometer (10,000 per square mile). Life expectancy is slightly lower than in the United States at 80 years for females and 71 years for males. Infant mortality is somewhat higher than in the United States with 13.4 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Puerto Rico has a growing elderly population; people 60 years or older account for over 15 percent of the population. Those under 19 years account for about 33 percent of the population. According to the 2000 census, over 80 percent is white, 8 percent is black, and approximately 12 percent are members of other ethnic groups.

The island’s population is 99.9 percent Hispanic and the first language is Spanish, with English as its second language. Of the close to four million (4,000,000) Puerto Ricans, residing on the islands, latest statistics say 95% speak Spanish and only 20% speak proficient English. Most Puerto Ricans know some English, as it is a compulsory subject in the school system. Many older people use it sparingly, and school dropouts often do not attain fluency; thus English fluency is estimated to be less than 50 percent. In the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan and the big cities and most of the places close to the tourist hubs, people who work and reside there are bilingual. Even in the suburbs or outskirts of the cities, most Puerto Ricans may not be able to talk back and respond, but they’d understand English.

The island’s government is officially bilingual. The language and culture issues are quite contentious, as most Puerto Ricans do not want to give up their Spanish heritage. Many still identify closely with Spain and Spanish-speaking South and Central American countries and do not want to give up Spanish as their official language.

Puerto Rico’s culture is a lively mix of Taíno, African, and Spanish influences. This fusion extends to almost every aspect of Puerto Rican life: a rich cuisine, colorful arts and crafts, vibrant music, and traditional festivals. Museums feature both European classics and Afro-Caribbean sculpture. Buildings blend traditional colonial styles with a bright palette of colors. Music brings together instruments, rhythms and sounds from eras and places as distant from each other as 18th century West Africa and medieval Spain. Puerto Rico’s yearly calendar is teeming with mesmerizing cultural events, such as the Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián that mark the end of Christmas in the winter to the Puerto Rico Heineken JazzFest that brings together international Latin jazz stars during the spring. Culinary tradition spans centuries and combines Taíno, Spanish and African cultures, recipes and ingredients. In recent years, it’s been combined with flavors from around the world to create mouth-watering fusion creations.

Puerto Ricans, on the whole, tend to be physically distinct from the "northern European model" of an American. Generations of intermarriage among blacks, Indians, and whites on the island have created a colorful spectrum of people. Those who are darker in complexion ("Trigueno") have been the recipients of the same racial prejudice and discrimination that unfortunately has been the sad heritage of other non-white looking people in America.

Puerto Rico is North American in status and progress because of its unique commonwealth status with the United States. High standards of health, food preparation, water treatment, education, and the presence of organizations such as the Rotary Club, the Masons, the Lions Club, the Elks, and the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America all provide a North American flavor to the island.

Puerto Rico has a 90 percent literacy rate. There are over 600,000 public school students, making it the third largest school district in the United States. Education is compulsory from ages 5 to 21. About 42 percent of Puerto Rican young people graduate from high school and many pursue advanced education. The University of Puerto Rico was founded in 1903 as a U.S. land grant institution (fig. 4). Its main campus in Río Piedras is a fully comprehensive Ph.D.-granting, teaching/research liberal arts university, with a law and medical school. Its land grant counterpart at Mayagüez offers a full array of degrees, and houses the engineering, agriculture, and marine sciences programs. The university also has a designated liberal arts campus at Cayey and eight other campuses. Total enrollment today is more than 71,000. The university’s combined budget is more than $1 billion per year. There are 30 campuses of higher learning in Puerto Rico, and they graduate nearly 45,000 students per year.

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