Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans: Place, Space, and Society

By Sanchez, Luis | Southeastern Geographer, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans: Place, Space, and Society


Sanchez, Luis, Southeastern Geographer


First of all I will like to thank the editors of the Southeastern Geographer for their interest in making possible a special issue completely devoted to Puerto Rico. One could easily think that a volume on Puerto Rico could be out of place in the pages of the Southeastern Geographer. For many years Puerto Rico has been associated with images of a faraway exotic land that you might find in the pages of National Geographic magazine. However, one just needs to look around to see the connection between Puerto Rico and the United States. Currently the southeastern United States (especially Florida) is an obligated stop for any serious attempt to understand contemporary Puerto Rico.

The articles in this volume certainly do not cover but a fraction of the phenomena that demand geographers' attention; but they do combine a discussion of several issues important to understand Puerto Rico and of course the Puerto Ricans. Considering that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, but most of the U.S. citizens have a limited knowledge about the island and its relation with the United States, my aim is to promote discussions that can provide us with a better understanding of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican.

The distinction between Puerto Rico and the Puerto Ricans could be seen as redundant, but considering the complex relations between Puerto Rico and the United States, it is necessary. The magnitude of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the U.S. is what brigs us to such distinction between the two terms. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2003 almost half (48.9 percent) of all persons of Puerto Rican origin were living outside of Puerto Rico. In 2007 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that there were 3,765,840 Puerto Ricans living in the island and 4,120,205 living in the United States. According to these numbers, currently there are more Puerto Ricans living outside of Puerto Rico than those living in the island, with an important portion of that diasporic population living in the southeastern United States, especially in Florida.

Therefore, far from being a distant exotic land, Puerto Rico is now a modern island subject to the effects of globalization. Carlos Guilbe discusses how the movement to international markets of North American Chain Stores is changing the economic geography of the island. Puerto Rico, as a central place in the Caribbean, is becoming an attractive market from those chain stores and the arrival of these major retailers coincided with the implementation of neoliberal practices on the island. These mega retailers are intensifying their presence, affecting the local small and medium retailers and restructuring the general land use pattern on the island. In the past 15 years, Puerto Rico has become an important regional prototype that could be diffused into major Latin American urban areas in the near future.

Meanwhile, Benjamin Tillman explores the effects of globalization in Puerto Rico, and its possible repercussion in other Latin American countries in future, through the example of one of the most dominant aspects of the cultural and urban landscape in Latin America, the Plaza. The Latin American plaza is becoming Anglo Americanized due to increasingly international economic and cultural exchanges resulting from globalization. Tillman makes its analysis by reporting the changes in the types of businesses located adjacent to the plaza of Ponce, Puerto Rico from 1907-2000.

On the other hand, Juan C. Garcia-Ellin demonstrates how spatial boundaries affect people's lives. He examines how gated communities are created and regulated in Puerto Rico. …

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