At the end of the 18th century, Abbad is the first one to define the Puerto Rican man, or better yet, the criollo. Initially, he does it by comparing him to the Europeans or whites; or, as they call themselves, "the men of the other side". The children of this land "are normal; one barely sees a cripple person on the island. His constitution is delicate and in every one of them there is a fine and soft organization, suitable of warm weather; but this same weather makes them lazy, deprives them of regular sharpness of actions, and gives them a color and an aspect of sick people." In terms of their psychological characteristics, the Benedictine writes, "they are cautious and reserved and are always observing; but posses a vivid imagination to reason and imitate what they see; they love liberty, are kind and hospitable with foreigners; but are vain and inconsistent when it comes to their taste."
Manuel Alonso, considered the father of Puerto Rican literature, presents a more positive image of the Puerto Rican man in his book El Gíbaro with the following sonnet:
Dark-skinned, clear forehead
Languid, penetrating, arrogant gaze,
Black beard, pale expression,
Skinny face, well-balanced nose.
Medium height, rhythmic walk,
A soul longing illusions,
Sharp, free and arrogant wit,
Eager thinker, hot-minded.
Human, friendly, fair, kind
Always erratic in love,
Always passionate for glory and pleasure,
Unwavering in the love for his country.
This is, without a doubt, an accurate model
To copy a good Puerto Rican man.
The predominant quality in the opinions and testimonies of our thinkers regarding the characteristics of the Puerto Rican man is not praise but self-criticism, irony and will to declare the existence of a national character.
Salvador Brau's "Disquisiciones sociológicas" (Sociological Discrepancies) presents us with a definition that integrates characteristics of the three ethnic groups composing the Puerto Rican people. In his essay "Las clases jornaleras de Puerto Rico" (Puerto Rico's working class), he creates this multi-ethnic mosaic and says:
"… from the Taino Indians we inherited laziness, taciturnity, lack of interest and hospitality; Africans brought us endurance, vigorous sensuality, superstition and fatalism; the Spanish instilled in us their chivalry, arrogance, festive ways, austere devotion, perseverance, and love for independence and country".
Later, Rosendo Matienzo Cintrón examines in a series of books the effect of the impact of American culture in Puerto Rico. With an ironic sense of humor, he tells us that when Americans arrived on the island, a kind of phobia against everything Spanish or Puerto Rican exploded. "It was not a bad gesture, because it praised new life, but many good-natured Puerto Ricans and Americans took it to an extreme... Some wanted to suddenly pull out their tongue, get rid of their traditions, laws, even their names".
In the Puerto Rican household, Manolitos, Panchitos and Joseitos went to bed, and they woke up the next morning as Franks, Jimmys, Williams and Joes.
Antonio S. Pedreira, the most influential intellectual of the Generation of 1930, had facilitated a public survey published on the magazine Indice (Index Magazine) to define the Puerto Rican identity. It was an attempt to determine the elements of our personality as a people. Years later, Pedreira publishes his essay Insularismo (Insularism), perhaps the most influential work of his generation and future ones, which defines us as follows:
"In terms of race, we are a heterogeneous people, a mix of white, black and mulatto ancestries… our collective personality is responsible for a handful of men that represents us in almost all the insular compartments of our culture".
Independently of how we are defined, there are certain constants in our life as a community that deserve to be stressed since they are important elements of our society. The first and perhaps most important characteristic has been the enduring tendency of Puerto Ricans to prefer the law as the mean to achieve important changes in government structure, with an almost complete rejection to the use of violence for said purpose. Only twice in Puerto Rico's history do we see a group of Puerto Rican nationalists resorting to violence to enforce their ideal of establishing an independent state: the "Grito de Lares" (The Cry of Lares) in 1898 and the Revolt of 1950. In both cases, the revolutionary movements were short-lived due to the lack of substantial backing from our people.
The Revolt of 1950 took place within the context of the general electoral registration; prior to submitting for approval a federal legislation that would allow the people of Puerto Rico, for the first and last time in our history to date, to call a Constituent Assembly to draft a Constitution for the Puerto Rican Government. As stated by María Teresa Babín in her book "Panorama de la cultura puertorriqueña" (Puerto Rican culture: A Panoramic View), "... to make democracy a living reality has been, historically, the one clear and constant ideal of the Puerto Rican people".
Electoral processes under Spanish rule
Our participation in the electoral process is one of the most obvious indicators of our fervent belief in democracy. Fernando Bayrón Toro, an analyst of Puerto Rico's electoral events beginning in 1809 until today, provides us with valuable information that allows us to calibrate citizen participation in electoral process.
During the Spanish regime, 24 elections took place under different rules. In many cases, these rules were temporary laws or transitory rulings, generally enacted during periods of revolutionary or counter-revolutionary changes by a cabinet or interim government. This way, for example, the first elections of 1809-1810 were celebrated according to the orders of the Central Governing Board of the Regime (1809) or the Council of Regency (1810). In both cases, the election, won by Ramón Power y Giralt, was held using religious and political pull and through a provisional board presided by the Governor, in which the elected representatives from San Juan, San Germán, Aguada, Arecibo y Coamo- the electoral districts back then, participated.
When the Constitution of 1812 was approved, Chapters I to V of Title III stipulated the rules governing elections, including the requirements to become an elector. Under the protection of said law, the celebration of the 1813, 1814, 1820, 1821, 1823 and 1835 elections took place.
From 1835 up until 1869, the Governors and General Captains exercised their command with all-embracing faculties; therefore, no elections were held. Not until the Glorious Revolution of 1868 marked the time when Puerto Ricans recovered their participation in elections, abiding by the ordinary electoral laws approved by the Spanish courts and subject to revision and amendment. The right to vote was strictly limited.
The most important elections held during Spanish rule were, without a doubt, the 1898 elections. Said elections were celebrated on March 27 and were the first and only ones held under the Autonomic Charter of 1897. The Provisional Ruling for the ratification of Puerto Rico's Electoral Law of June 26, 1890 was then in force, and 16 deputies to the Spanish Court, 73 mayors and 35 representatives to the Insular Parliament were elected. Out of 165,068 registered voters, 121,573 voted, achieving a voter turnout rate of 73.65%. Liberals and conservatives, both autonomist parties, attained a combined total of 98,695 votes, in comparison to 3,729 by opportunists and supporters. The total number of voters revealed a substantial increase, when compared to the former elections where, under extremely restrictive laws, less than 5,000 voted. Except for the elections held under the canons of the Autonomic Charter ("Carta Autonómica"), the number of voters varied between a minimum of 2,794 in the 1884 elections and a maximum of 46,042 in the 1873 elections, the latter held under the First Spanish Republic. During the course of the 19th century's electoral process, Puerto Ricans elected a total of 214 deputies to the Spanish Court; 5 deputy substitutes; 4 legal counsels to the Spanish Court; 24 partial election deputies to replace so many others that left their posts; and 41 senators.
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