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Latino Daily News

Friday April 1, 2011

Racial Identity Shifting in Puerto Rico

Racial Identity Shifting in Puerto Rico

Photo: Puerto Rico racial identity shifting

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The racial identity of the Puerto Rican population may be changing, say experts, who point to census figures in which those identifying solely as American Indian or black jumped about 50 percent in the last ten years.

Both the experts and the islanders were surprised to see that the island’s population appears to be identifying with more specific ethnicities as apposed to the previously “blurred racial mosaic” that had been the norm in previous years.

A University of Puerto Rico anthropology professor Jorge Duany said, “It truly breaks with a historic pattern.”

The increase was mostly seen in those that reported themselves as being either black of American Indian. Over 461,00 thousand islanders identified as black, a 52 percent increase, and 20,000 claimed an American Indian racial identity, seeing a nearly 49 percent increase. Due to these increases, the island’s population of those identifying as white dropped about 8 percent.

Duany believes President Obama’s election could have swayed some of the population to call themselves black as he proved negative stereotypes to be false with his successful run. The seemingly increased number of the island’s black population also coincided with the push to highlight that part of the population (i.e. the Department of Education offing a high school book solely about their history).

Barbara Abadia-Rexach, a sociology and anthropology professor at the University of Puerto Rico, said, “There is no authentic or pure race. We are all mixed.”

Puerto Ricans are often called “boricuas,” which is a name derived from the island’s Taino Indians’ word for the island, “Borikén.” The Taino people were the pre-Colombian inhabitants of the Caribbean.

A possible reason for the increase in the number of people that identified themselves as American Indian is the fact that, this year, the U.S. Census Bureau allowed them to write down their tribe, where as, for previous censuses, many would select “other” as their ethnicity, because there was no way to select “American Indian” then “Caribbean.”