Until Hurricane Maria slammed and devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, many Americans associated the island with some of the famous faces who have roots there, such as Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, singer and actress Jennifer Lopez, and baseball great Roberto Clemente. Puerto Rico stands on its own though, as a place rich culture, and has an altogether unique status in the world. And the region’s resilient capacity and spirit to rebuild is unparalleled.
This Caribbean Island is roughly the size of Connecticut and is home to 3.4 million people, who also happen to be legal United States Citizens. Despite American citizenship, Puerto Rico has its own constitution and is an American commonwealth, not a state—a fact that makes its citizens ineligible to vote in United States Presidential elections.
With a long history of native Taíno inhabitants, followed by Spanish colonization, African slavery, neighboring Caribbean influences and American military presence and governance, Puerto Rico is made up of a diverse blend of cultures. This can be seen and tasted in the local cuisine. One of the most quintessential Puerto Rican dishes is “mofongo,” fried green plantains mashed with garlic and pork cracklings. Many also mix in veggies, shrimp or another protein such as chicken or beef. The tomato-based soup “Asopao” is also a staple and is comprised of chicken, rice and flavorful ingredients and spices like olives and capers. Rice, potatoes, crab, whole seafood and pork dishes are also commonly consumed on the island.
With hundreds of miles of beautiful sandy beaches and a lush tropical landscape—complete with a rainforest teeming with waterfalls and wildlife—Puerto Rico has a tourism economy. The massive port in the capital San Juan, is a cruise ship hub, and tourists come to scuba dive, surf and fish. Since the 1940s Puerto Rico has had a predominantly manufacturing economy in areas such as textiles, electronics, and pharmaceuticals. It also has one of the world’s largest rum distilleries, and the majority of rum sold in the United States comes from the commonwealth.
Baseball is considered the most widely played and watched sport in Puerto Rico, with many Puerto Ricans making it to American Major League Baseball teams. Boxing and basketball are also popular.
As an American Commonwealth, Puerto Rico celebrates major United States holidays, but also observes specific Puerto Rican ones, including El Día de los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day, on January 6. Little kids even put grass or hay under their beds “for the wise men” in exchange for gifts. There are a few key carnivals and festivals throughout the year too, celebrated with Puerto Rican traditions, food, music and salsa dance.