Race that Stands Out Among the Three that Conceived Puerto Ricans

By: Kimberly N. Vega Colón


Doctors José Barreiro, Juan Manuel Delgado Colón, Juan Carlos Martínez and Isar Godreau lead an academic debate about indigenous legacy in Puerto Rico that took place in the lecture hall of the nursing building, Dr. Josefina Torres Torres, of the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. Such forum was held in the afternoon of Feb. 20, 2013.


The debate members presented one by one several viewpoints revealing each of their versions of the reason for the indigenous survival.


During the welcoming introduction, the emcee stated that since the very early school years it is repeated that Puerto Ricans arise from three races: Spanish, African and Taíno Indian.    It was put forward that Puerto Ricans present their Spanish inheritance in their language, their African traits in the “bomba” and “congas” and the Taíno Indian appears in their history, legacy and in their studies.  The emcee ended the preface leaving the audience with the conception that what Puerto Ricans are today is thanks to a combination of what they were yesterday.     


Afterward, Dr. José Barreiro, assistant director for research and head of the National Museum of the American Indian Office of Latin America in Washington DC, let the audience know that the expectation of extinction must yield to the expectation of survival, which is the paradigm of the museum.  He focused on the idea that Caribbean Indians are substantial but without leaving out his feeling of honor for his motherland.  Barreiro is Cuban from the province of the region of Camagüey and his parents are Cuban peasants (Guajiros), what in Puerto Rico is being a “Jíbaro.” 


According to Barreiro, both taíno and guajiro customs involve distinguishing the cassava bread as a special cake.  He stated that the planting of it is done according to the phases of the moon and that the Indian Chief Hatuey is the great legend that gives the example of the inter-insularity of the Taíno topic in Cuba.  To conclude and pass the turn to doctor Delgado Colón, he established that “Taíno is a real term gathered in history, first lost and recovered and now readapted and used more as a written flag of an indigenous identity.” 


Subsequently, Dr. Juan Manuel Delgado Colón, professor of the graduate program at the Center for Advanced Studies of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, presented the topic of indigenous survival in the oral history of Puerto Rico.  He consulted about 600 sources beginning from the year 1864 because according to him, that is when the Puerto Rican historiography was born.  Discovering that most Puerto Rican historians had supported the thesis of indigenous survival while the industry said that Indians were exterminated was surprising to him. 


Delgado said that it is speculated that the perception of Indians had disappeared arises after the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico was born. He stated that some texts lay out that they were exterminated among the 16th century while others state that they were not exterminated. “They were called naturals, the country children but never landowners,”- Delgado said.  To conclude, he revealed from the point of view of cultural survival that “the one that contributed the most to our formation was the indigenous, which is the mother culture, the other two were foreign and had to adapt to the ways of life.”


The follow up turn was of Juan C. Martínez Cruzado, professor of the Biology Department of UPRM and also geneticist, who demonstrated that Mitochondrial DNA is inherited from the mother.  Thanks to his investigation, he found himself with were the indigenous origin lies.  “Females are the carriers even though males have it they cannot transmit it to their children,” Martínez said.  The research he made was with a sample of 800 Puerto Ricans.  Sixty-one percent had Mitochondrial DNA of indigenous origin. 


“There is no such truth in the term that says that among the 16th century there was an indigenous extinction,” Martínez said.  “Phenotypic traits can be confused due to the mixture of races.”  The autosomal analysis he conducted had 642 columns, each being a person, told that we all have something of indigenous. The least that a person obtained was of 3 percent.  To conclude his turn he announced that “investigations indicate that each Puerto Rican has some indigenous characteristic.”


Dr. Isar P. Godreau, cultural anthropologist of the UPR-Cayey Campus, had discussed in several occasions with Dr. Martínez Cruzado over the issue of genetic findings.  “There is a big difference between genotype and phenotype,” Godreau said.  “The race does not exist as genetic, but racism exists, what then makes having races.” 


In addition, Godreau stated that in spite that Puerto Rican textbooks present the image of fascination for the Taínos, it degrades the African culture.  “Books exhibit the resistance of colonization from de Taíno group, whereas in the case of slaves, it does not communicate their deed for liberation.” 

The Puerto Rican flag decorated with Taíno Indian symbols.

The Puerto Rican flag decorated with Taíno Indian symbols.


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