Disruption of the Puerto Rican Culture due to Americanization

Written By Marjorie Montenegro

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The Disruption of the Puerto Rican Culture Due to Americanization

            In assessing the effects of the "Americanization" of the island of Puerto Rico, it is important to ascertain whether industrial progress is always beneficial to the people's to which it is brought.  Through the American perception of the ideal, one would believe that suburbanization and industrialization is akin to progress and success; however, Puerto Rico proves this to be a fallacy.  The people of Puerto Rico, hard working individuals with a strong work and family ethic became so immersed in "Americanization" that no price was too big to pay to achieve that "ideal."  Such prices included the dissolving of the patriarchal society, the sterilization of one-third of the country's women of child bearing years, and the loss of pride in one's ability to provide not only for himself but for his family.  Now, this society is rapidly becoming matriarchal with 20 percent of the males unemployed and living off of American handouts.  But how did this happen? 

            The terminology "for your own good" has never taken on more bitter irony than in the case of the Americanization of Puerto Rico.  This island, as a result of American intervention, has become a welfare society.  The industrialization of what was once an agricultural society has robbed the land of its ability to produce while thrusting the rural peasant into an environment which he is ill equipped to survive in.  The establishment in 1954 of Operation Bootstrap lured many large corporations to this small commonwealth through the tax incentive programs offered by then Governor Muniz Marin; however, once these incentives ceased to exist, the corporations folded up their operations and left the now dependant Puerto Rican's to fend for themselves.  

              The Chinese Proverb: "Give a man a fish, and he'll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he'll eat forever." would, if it had been used, provided the assistance needed to raise Puerto Rico's standard of living to a level which would have made for an acceptable position above the poverty level for the survival of Puerto Rico's culture and people.  Puerto Rico, once a tri-crop society where the gross national product was sugar cane, coffee and tobacco, survived but did not thrive.  During 1900-1930, the U.S. government promoted sugarcane as a single crop, undermining coffee and tobacco as crops; this impoverished many small farmers and established Puerto Rico's dependency upon the U.S. economy. This was not the values which more "civilized"societies used to measure the worth of the cultural makeup of a nation.  Thus, "for their own good" America plotted a new course for this island to take.  Rather than assisting with programs which would benefit the natives, as well as raise their standard of living, America assessed the worth that Puerto Rico could provide to the capitalist and to the now governing United States.  Rather than appreciate the distinct culture and values already present in the Puerto Rican society, the United States attempted to instill the Anglo-American culture into the heart of this island. 

            While the petrochemical and pharmaceutical companies polluted the lands making them unfit for agricultural development, they did not prepare the migrant workers to take their place within the factories which had displaced them from their livelihood.  Although women were able to find employment for a while, the men, who were once the head of household, were unable to work.  This emasculation of the family structure resulted in loss of machismo in a culture previously based on such feelings.  This loss of pride by the males in this culture made the transformation to a welfare economy a much smoother one.  Without the prospect of employment, and subject to dependance upon the women of the household, the now demoralized male more easily accepted public assistance

            A further emasculation of the once male dominated society occurred as a result of the mass sterilization and birth control which the uneducated female population agreed to.  The United States, feeling that these inferior people were reproducing unnecessarily, began la operacion, developed to curb the population growth of the working females of child bearing years, for both economic and biased reasons, the male of the household was no longer la padre, but rather a burden to his family.  In the machismo society, the bringing forth of children was an affirmation of manhood, thus, when the males were not longer able to add to their families they were "emasculated" once again.  Furthermore, as women now earned the family incomes, male children were no longer prized as they had been in the past.  This denigration of the male, who traditionally were the leaders in their communities as well as families, forever altered the course of Puerto Rican culture.

            Lastly, rather than America entering into a redevelopment plan which was designed to enhance this agricultural, male dominated society, America forged an "Americanization" plan to force the Anglo-American ideal of development.  Only through the reshaping and restructuring of the Puerto Rican culture could the United States imagine that this "backward" society would hope to become successful.  As long as that success was measured by the American standard.  In order to achieve this success, America began a propaganda campaign to deconstruct the Puerto Rican culture, beginning with the English language classes and "Dick and Jane" readers which promoted the two parent - two child suburban lifestyle which America believed was an indicator of success.  The rape of the soil, the emasculation of the male, the domination of the government and the dependance upon public assistance all worked in tangent to destroy a culture which was the "heart" of Puerto Rico.  What America left behind was the "ghost" of America. 

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