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Living in Puerto Rico?

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Saad Dessouki

Living in Puerto Rico, from Egypt

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Living in Puerto Rico, from Canada

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Puerto Rico at a Glance

Living in Puerto Rico

Dreaming about the good life in Puerto Rico? While Puerto Rico certainly gives expats a taste of the Caribbean, it is not all about palm trees and long sandy beaches. Find out all you need to know about being an expat in Puerto Rico, the people, the culture, and all that comes with it.

Puerto Ricans are very proud of their roots, their culture, and their island. Even those not actually living in Puerto Rico – and there are many – usually refer to the island as their home. When you hear a Puerto Rican talking about his or her country, they don’t usually mean the United States, but their little island. Thus, people of Puerto Rican origin, whether they are living on the island or not, usually refer to themselves not as Americanos, but as Puertorriqueños.

There is of course the Nuyorican as well, the New Yorker born in Puerto Rico or of Puerto Rican origin. This multitudinous group of Puerto Ricans is estimated to outnumber those living in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital.

Life on the Island

All in all, there are around 3.6 million permanent residents living in Puerto Rico. Another two million Puerto Ricans are estimated to live in the United States. Even without them, the population density on the island is among the highest in the world. With about 1,100 inhabitants per square mile, only Bangladesh, the Maldives, Barbados, Taiwan, South Korea, and Singapore are more densely populated. Given that up to 90% (according to different statistics) of the island’s inhabitants are living in the urban centers on the coast and that the mountainous center of the main island plus many small islands are uninhabited, this makes for very crowded cities indeed!

Puerto Ricans are generally very friendly and outgoing. As a foreigner in Puerto Rico, you may soon come to the conclusion that many of the stereotypical Latin American characteristics are true for Puerto Ricans. One thing is certain: Puerto Ricans tend to be very lively and expressive and like to underline their words with extensive gestures. They are also likely to meet you with great hospitality and see it as their personal responsibility to make your life here as enjoyable as possible.

A Historical Mix of Cultures

While it is common to refer to the people of Puerto Rico as Hispanic, we shouldn’t forget that Latin Americans are of course a racially very diverse group. In 2007, 76.2% of people living in Puerto Rico were white, 6.9% black, 0.2% Amerindian, 0.3% Asian, 4.4% mixed, and 12% described themselves as “other”. In fact, Puerto Rico and its culture has historically been shaped by a mixture and succession of indigenous settlement, European colonization, slavery, economic migration, and Puerto Rico’s current status as an unincorporated territory of the United States.   

The indigenous Taíno people who inhabited Puerto Rico before Spanish colonization were virtually decimated by slavery and industrialization, but some of them intermarried with poorer Spanish farmers. Soon slaves were brought in from Africa, but other ethnic groups also came to work on the plantations.

In the early 19th century, they were joined by European immigrants from economically depressed countries hoping for a better life in Puerto Rico. The island also became a haven for Spanish loyalists during the South American independence movements and for the French from Louisiana and Haiti. More Europeans, Chinese and Lebanese came later in the century, hoping to make a living in Puerto Rico by working in the road construction industry. More recently, most immigrants searching for a better future in Puerto Rico come from other Caribbean or Latin American countries.

Puerto Rico Today

People living in Puerto Rico today observe mainly Spanish cultural and moral values and traditions and are predominantly of Roman Catholic faith. However, Puerto Rico is also home to the largest Jewish Community in the whole Caribbean.

The influence of the United States is reflected in the university system and of course in the use of English as the second official language. However, a study by the University of Puerto Rico revealed that nine out of ten inhabitants of Puerto Rico did not speak English at an advanced level.

In Puerto Rico, you’ll discover an island of sharp contrasts, a place where the new and the old merge to form a very special mix of cultures. One area where old and new influences converge in a notable manner is architecture: Living in Puerto Rico, you’ll find Spanish colonial buildings next to huge, U.S. style malls, which in turn co-exist with tiny corner shops and ultra-modern construction projects.

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