During my recent research on the Order of Malta, I came across the fascinating history of the Knights Hospitaller, a humanitarian order of religious warriors during the Crusades. The original purpose of the knights was to provide aid and medical care to Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land. Eventually, the knights were also charged with defending the devoted travelers.
I have always loved history but have not had a great interest in religion in general even though I was raised Catholic. Learning about the Hospitallers has sparked a dormant desire to be connected again in some shape or form to Catholicism. For now, it is only through a historical lens but we’ll see what the future holds.
Formally called the Order of the Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, the Knights Hospitaller, which dates back to 1048 and was officially recognized by Pope Paschal II in 1113, was a medieval and early modern Catholic military order that was headquartered in the Kingdom of Jerusalem until 1291.
With over 970 years of history, I had not known of the religious organization that lives on today in various forms. The Knights Hospitaller were contemporaries with the well-known, and some may say infamous, Knights Templar who ceased to exist in 1312.
After the fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1291, the Knights Hospitaller had no home until they settled on the island of Rhodes. They remained in Rhodes from 1310 until 1522, in Malta from 1530 until 1798, and in Saint Petersburg from 1799 until 1801. They roamed around until they at last settled permanently in Rome in 1834.
This April 21st marks the 55th anniversary of the death of Pedro Albizu Campos, the most prominent historic figure in the Puerto Rico independence movement. I learned inspiring and infuriating facts about the life of Albizu Campos and the National Puerto Rican Independence Party in Nelson Denis’s crucial chronicle, War Against All Puerto Ricans: Revolution and Terror in America’s Colony. Everyone of Puerto Rican descent and anyone interested in knowing more about the tragic history of Puerto Rico should read this intensely researched, incredibly well-written book published in 2015.
The publication of this must-read saga predates Hurricane Maria, last year’s political uprising that resulted in the ousting of Puerto Rico’s governor, and the current coronavirus crisis. The tragic incidents, senseless massacres, and vital information detailed in this book now, more than ever, need to be fully understood and digested by the masses to help ensure a just and fair political destiny for the people of Puerto Rico.
Many Puerto Ricans and non-Puerto Ricans may not know that Puerto Rico was an independent nation for only a short eight days before being invaded in 1898 by the United States. Some may not know that the people of Puerto Rico became U.S. citizens in 1917 just in time to participate and die in World War I. Most people are unfamiliar with the 1935 massacre in Rio Piedras or the 1937 massacre in Ponce where innocent people were killed because they supported independence for Puerto Rico.
Pedro Albizu Campos became president of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in 1930 initiating the organization of agricultural workers and small farmers in their fight for fair wages. Towards this aim, in 1934 Albizu Campos helped orchestrate an island-wide strike against the U.S. owned and operated sugar refineries resulting in a victory. This furthered the objective of Puerto Rican nationalists against the U.S. control of the island. In retaliation, the U.S then labeled Albizu Campos as a “threat to national security.”
These are just a few momentous historical facts highlighted in War Against All Puerto Ricans. Others include the facts that it was once illegal for Puerto Rican people to possess a Puerto Rican Flag; that Albizu Campos, the first Puerto Rican to graduate from Harvard University, was arrested, charged with sedition, and tortured by the FBI; and that in 1950 Puerto Rican nationalists attempted to assassinate Luis Munoz Marin, the governor of Puerto Rico, and U.S. President Harry S. Truman.
This year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade will most likely not occur because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the United States eventually returns to some sense of new normalcy and we begin to examine critical issues that were brought to the forefront of American consciousness, let’s hope that the people of Puerto Rico are finally treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. To reach this goal, all Americans must be keenly aware of the social and political sacrifices the people of Puerto Rico have had and continue to endure.
Author Nelson Denis clearly notes the horrific, complicated and controversial struggle for Puerto Rican independence in his documentary work. Denis believes the ultimate decision of the Caribbean territory’s political status should be determined by the people of Puerto Rico.
“The current status of commonwealth is just morally, politically, and especially economically untenable. It’s a business model that is clearly failing and it needs to be mercifully put to rest,” Denis said in an interview with Mother Jones. “That leaves us with two remaining options. There has to be a decision, either to get married or get divorced. But no more keeping Puerto Rico as its little mistress in the Caribbean. That doesn’t work anymore.”
The recent update to AncestryDNA results now lists a percentage for the indigenous people of Puerto Rico, historically also known as the Taino. This is truly incredible news. I, as well as many of my fellow Puerto Ricans, have always known from an intellectual and spiritual sense that we collectively come from and continue to represent the Taino Indian. It truly feels amazing to finally see it clearly stated in official DNA results.
Puerto Ricans grow up hearing about the Taino people and know that Boricuas, an indigenous derived word we warmly refer to ourselves as, are made up of Spanish, African, and Taino blood. With the enormous advances in DNA analysis, we can now estimate the percentages of each group that comprises who we collectively are. My genetic makeup includes 15% DNA from the initial inhabitants of the island of Boriken (Puerto Rico.) Research has finally proven that the Taino, believed by some in the scientific community to have been extinct, lives on in the Puerto Rican.
If you are Puerto Rican and have submitted your DNA to Ancestry.com, check out your most recent update and feel free to share your results and thoughts in the comments section. Of course, the new data is not the end-all or be-all of being Puerto Rican, but it’s helpful information that can lead to an insightful conversation with family and friends.
Ancestry.com states it updates its results from time to time to include more accurate information as it gathers additional DNA data sets from across the globe. The new results could be upsetting if, like in my case, one year you are more Portuguese than Spanish and the next year you’re back to being more Spanish than Portuguese.
In any event, I believe it’s important to know your ancestry because the knowledge provides an international perspective on your family history and demonstrates that we are more connected to each other than we are apart.
My blog post from earlier in 2018 revealing my Puerto Rican DNA results, is now outdated thanks to new data from AncestryDNA. My DNA is the same, however, the interpretation has changed.
The juggernaut genealogy company updated its algorithms a few months ago, providing more data on ethnic regions by breaking down larger ones to identify specific areas. This new information differs slightly from earlier in 2018, providing me with a new ethnic perspective for 2019.
My first results showed that 26 percent of my DNA came from the Iberian Peninsula, of which I thought mostly comes from Spain. I knew that some of my DNA could be traced to Spain’s neighbor, Portugal, but I never really thought much about that fact until I was informed of my most recent results.
AncestryDNA can now decipher between Spanish and Portuguese DNA and the incredible find is that I am 29 percent Portuguese and only 16 percent Spanish! This is amazing news to me, but initially, I had a tough time digesting the new information. My entire life I knew I was partly Spanish, but now I am embracing the reality that I’m more Portuguese than I am Spanish. There is a great deal to learn about Portugal, but I have begun the journey of knowing as much as possible.
My new DNA results also changed in regards to my African ancestry. I was first told that my African DNA came mostly from Nigeria and I was pretty excited about that all year. With the new data, my DNA is less Nigerian and actually more from Cameroon, Congo, Benin, and Togo. So much more to learn about these regions of my ancestry as well.
Another discrepancy from last year’s results is that I am less English and no longer Italian. The difference in findings moved to the current Portuguese DNA percentage.
My new ethnic breakdown now looks as follows:
21% Native American (Taino)
18% African (Cameroon, Congo, Benin & Togo)
7% English/Welsh/NW European
2% European Jewish
1% Middle Eastern
In summary, I am 60% European, 21% Native American, 18% African, and 1% Middle Eastern. AncestryDNA did warn that as the technology and science improves, there may very well be a chance that this particular view of my DNA may change again in the future. I am OK with that but do hope any future update will not variate too much from what it is today. We shall see?
Unity March for Puerto Rico in Washington, DC. Sunday, November 19, 2017. (photo by Phil Velez.)
Less than two weeks before this year’s National Puerto Rican Day Parade celebration, a new Harvard University study estimates 4,645 Puerto Ricans died from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. As Boricuas prepare to celebrate our culture and mourn the lives lost, it may also be time to seriously reevaluate Puerto Rico’s political status.
As a Puerto Rican born in Brooklyn and raised in the Bronx, also known as a Nuyorican, I’ve known that for 120 years my people have continuously debated between being an independent sovereign nation, a commonwealth/territory of the United States, or the 51st State of the United States of America. Commonwealth has always won out. Puerto Rico has been a U.S. territory since 1898 after the U.S. defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. It’s classified as an “unincorporated territory,” meaning the island is controlled by the U.S. Puerto Rico has been operating as a U.S. Commonwealth since 1952 when the territory formalized its constitution.
The more than 4,600 Puerto Rican deaths from Hurricane Maria clearly illustrates to me that commonwealth failed Puerto Rico. The United States government pretty much abandoned Puerto Rico at its most dire time. If Puerto Rico had been a State when Hurricane Maria hit, there most likely would have been more U.S. resources allocated for the archipelago’s recovery, thus leading to fewer hurricane-related fatalities.
I dare to speculate that if the citizens of Puerto Rico had decided long ago to be an independent nation, they may have been greater prepared to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. The proposed Republic of Puerto Rico would have been able to reach out to the international community for assistance as opposed to relying only on the U.S. for help.
The fight for independence has a long history in Puerto Rico, becoming fiercely intense. In 1950 Puerto Rican nationalists tried to assassinate U.S. President Harry Truman and in 1954 nationalists shot-up the U.S. Capitol.
The struggle for independence has never been popular with the majority of Puerto Ricans with historically only about five percent of the citizenry voting in favor. In last year’s plebiscite, 97 percent of Puerto Ricans voted for Statehood, however, only 23 percent of the population voted. Independence and Commonwealth supporters boycotted the status referendum suggesting the vote was rigged in favor of Statehood.
As a Puerto Rican born in the States, I have no say in the matter. At first, I thought the status-quo political stance of Puerto Rico was fine by me. It seemed like the best of both worlds. Later I thought my people should make a decision already. If I had a vote, I would vote to cross off Commonwealth and let the people of Puerto Rico finally achieve self-determination. Do you want La Isla del Encanto to be a U.S. State or an independent country?
Becoming a State makes the most sense since it already acts as a State and the position is strongly supported politically. Puerto Rico would be like the Hawaii of the East Coast. We Puerto Ricans can finally live happily ever as officially part of the U.S. with all the benefits that come along with that, like having full representation in Congress and the ability to vote for the U.S. President. Most recently, I had personally wholeheartedly supported this idea.
Then I conducted research on the history of the independence of Puerto Rico and came across Eugenio Maria de Hostos, a Puerto Rican educator, author, and revolutionary. Hostos furiously fought for the independence of Puerto Rico but the U.S. was interested in keeping the potential Caribbean nation a colony. Hostos was upset with this power and the fact that his people did not collectively fight for independence, that he left Puerto Rico and lived his last years in the Dominican Republic where he is buried. Hostos’ final wish was to have his remains stay permanently in the Dominican Republic until the day Puerto Rico is completely independent.
If the government of Puerto Rico negotiates independence with the U.S., it could stipulate that for 10 years the U.S. must financially and structurally help Puerto Rico get on its feet to operate as its own country. It’s a fantastic possibility, but I try to be a true optimist. Maybe the spirits of Puerto Rican freedom fighters are still calling the Boriken subconsciousness.
In any event, I think it’s time to take the Commonwealth option off the table. Puerto Ricans must accept the fact that sitting on the political fence has not worked for our people. It will take some time for Puerto Rico to get on its feet and it may take years to feel some sense of normalcy. During this time of healing, Puerto Ricans need to do some real soul searching to finally decide its political fate. We owe it to the 4,645 Puerto Ricans who lost their lives due to Hurricane Maria. More importantly, we owe it to ourselves.