The ethnic expression Boricua describes someone or something native to Boriken, Borique, Boriquén, Borinquén, Boriquí, or Boriquer—all variations of the Arawak name for the island that Christopher Columbus claimed for Spain in 1493 during his “discovery” of the Americas. While the Iberians later christened it Puerto Rico (Rich Port) in the mistaken belief that it was a veritable gold mine, in 1552 the chronicler Francisco López de Gómara referred to it as “San Juan del Boriqua.” Maintaining that the aboriginal population had died out, Spanish colonial authorities made only sporadic use of either Borinquen or Boricua during the next two centuries. Their tallies rarely took into account the undercounting of Tainos by colonists seeking to dodge taxes and import “sturdier” African captives, nor of Tainos who fled into the interior or were reclassified as mestizos. Although some 2,000 “indios” still existed in Puerto Rico at the start of the nineteenth century, Boricuas had undergone a significant ethnogenetic transformation since 1493 as a result of miscegenation with poor, persecuted whites and enslaved Africans who also fled to the mountainous interior.
Over time, a pluricultural population of rural mulatto-mestizo peasants known as jíbaros emerged in Spanish colonial Puerto Rico. Characterized by a conscious rejection of Roman Catholic orthodoxy, forced labor, and Iberian cultural hegemony, they dwelled on the periphery of their colonial overseers where they evoked, celebrated, and perpetuated the original pre-Columbian names for the island and its aboriginal people. The jíbaros embraced a libertarian ethos that appealed to anticolonial and antislav-ery causes. For instance, an independence conspiracy led by the German general Ducoudray Holstein in the early 1820s called for the establishment of a República Boricua. An 1853 novel by ardent abolitionist and pro-independence militant Ramón Emeterio Betances was titled, Les Deux Indiens. Episode de la Conquéte de Borinquen. Even the national anthem of Puerto Rico, “La Borinqueña,” a danza penned in the 1860s, retained the Antillean appellation. A vast number of modern-day rural barrios, neighborhoods, roads, urban communities, streets, and avenues across the island are called Borinquen. Countless literary, artistic, and musical productions make use of Borinquen and/or Boricua instead of their Spanish counterparts.
Puerto Rican separatists operating in the United States starting in the late 1860s, among them Betances, laid the groundwork for the first Hispanic Caribbean enclaves in New York. By the early 1890s, Francisco Gonzalez Marín y Shaw, Inocencia Martínez Santaella, Sotero Figueroa Fernández, Bernardo Vega, Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, and Eugenio María de Hostos became prominent members of the embryonic Boricua colonia. Fittingly, the asylees congregated at the New York clubs Borinquen and Dos Antillas. Other Boricuas joined them following the 1898 Cuban-Spanish-American War, their numbers swelling slowly but perceptively after the passage of the 1917 Jones Act that conferred U.S. citizenship on Puerto Ricans. The pre-World War II (1939–1945) writings of Schomburg (1874-1938) and William Carlos Williams (1888–1963), whose mother was born in Mayagüez and father in England but raised in the Dominican Republic, spoke to a number of Antillean diasporan concerns such as race, identity, and colonialism. Significantly, Schomburg self-identified as “afroborin-queño” and named one of his U.S.-born children after the Taino cacique (chief or political leader) Guarionex, who led the 1511 uprising against the Spanish colonizers. The expansion of the New York’s Boricua community in the post-1950s eventually led to the founding of the Museo del Barrio (1969), Taller Boricua (1970), and Boricua College (1974). There, local Boricua artists, musicians, poets, educators, and community activists further fashioned a Nuyorican (stateside Puerto Rican) expressive culture built largely but not exclusively on Puerto Rico’s suppressed Taino and African heritage. Today, the Boricua identity has become a vehicle of cultural affirmation and cultural nationalism as diasporic Puerto Ricans continue to forge a place for themselves in the United States.
SEE ALSO Blackness; Colonialism; Harlem; Identity; Immigrants, New York City; Nuyoricans; Race; Taino; War of 1898
Alvarez Nazario, Manuel. 1977. El influjo indígena en el español de Puerto Rico. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico.
Sánchez González, Lisa. 2001. Boricua Literature: A Literary History of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. New York: New York University Press.
Toledo, Josefina. 2000. Ramón Emeterio Betances en la génesis de los clubes Borinquen y Mercedes Varona. In Pasión por la libertad. Río Piedras, eds. Félix Ojeda Reyes and Paul Estrade. San Juan, Puerto Rico: Editorial de la Universidad de Puerto Rico/Instituto de Estudios del Caribe.
Jorge L. Chinea