Puerto Ricans - Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Puerto Ricans are predominantly Catholic, yet their beliefs, rituals, and practices often stray outside the orthodox boundaries of Catholicism. Puerto Ricans do not generally differentiate between official Catholicism and their rituals and beliefs and give little credit to African and Latin American influence on their religion. In addition to the rich homage paid to saints, as is common throughout Latin America, parts of the island still host beliefs in the evil eye, saints' miracles, faith healing, and witchcraft. Catholic icons are common in Puerto Rican households, often intermingled with photographs of family members and clusters of ceramic and porcelain figures. Protestant sects—particularly the Pentecostal church —have converted a small portion of the population.
Ceremonies. Baptisms, marriages, weddings, vigils, processions, and funerals all come within the scope of Catholic ceremonies. In addition to these, Puerto Ricans celebrate religious and political holidays with great enthusiasm —singing, playing music, drinking, and feasting in recognition of a sacred day, an historical event or figure, or a time of year. Often called "home fiestas," these observances tend to be private affairs that bring together close friends and family members. Public fiestas include those that honor patron saints and occasional folk-music festivals. Some towns, for commercial reasons, have invented festivals, for example, the seafood festival in Puerto Real, a fishing community on the west coast. Cockfights, which can assume as ritualist and ceremonial a flavor as other sporting events, bring large numbers of people together.
Arts. Puerto Rican theater, dance, and other arts benefit from the culture's association with New York City yet combine with these influences more local cultural elements considered unique to the island. Puerto Rico has a rich history of folk music, which incorporates Caribbean and Spanish influences and often involves public storytelling, social critique, and joking. As in other Caribbean countries, there exist wood carving, doll making, and weaving traditions on the island, although many of these have come to be oriented toward the tourist trade.
The distinctive literary tradition of Puerto Ricans negotiates among Spanish, Latin American, and Nuyorican influences. Critics all too easily dismiss much of Puerto Rican literature and drama as overly political, obsessed with U.S. domination and the colonial past. For example, René Marqués uses rebellious and critical protagonists to illustrate the complex effects that imposed economic and political structures have on dislocated folk, but his work goes beyond a simple indictment of the status quo, tracing subtle and overt influences of social conditions on individual character. In personal essays, he acknowledges without apology his kinship with social critics throughout Western history.
In their poetry, Puerto Ricans have labored to free themselves from the formal qualities that characterized their verse during the years after U.S. occupation, when many poets withdrew into Spanish traditions in search of a defining cultural identity. Julia de Burgos internalized this struggle in her poems and marshaled it to confront the difficulties of romantic love and desire in a society dominated by Catholicism and machismo. Since the 1960s, growing attention has been given to the poetry originating from New York's Nuyorican Poets' Cafe: violent images in the work of Miguel Piñero, pride in the Puerto Rican heritage overcoming despair in that of Pedro Pietri, or the strength that poverty and bitterness inspire in that of Jorge Lopez.
Medicine. Western medicinal practice is as firmly established in Puerto Rico as it is throughout much of the United States, yet the Latin American and Caribbean traditions continue to provide solutions where Western medicine is weak, especially in the realm of prevention. Curanderos (native curers) and brujas (witches) are still prevalent throughout the island; these individuals often mix herbal remedies with religious ritual and Western medicines in their cures.
Death and Afterlife. In Puerto Rico, death and the passage into afterlife are commonly marked by vigils, or wakes, and novenas, which are days of prayer for the dead. During the vigils, which occur between death and burial, the close friends and relatives of the dead gather around the body, which lies in state, and pray for the soul's passage into heaven. Throughout the night of the vigil, people who knew the deceased come and go while a small group of women and men who were particularly close to the dead say the rosary. Candles burn, and the prayers last until dawn of the day the person is to be buried. Following the funeral, the novenas begin. These nine consecutive days of prayer take place in the house of the deceased and constitute a means by which God's favor is solicited on behalf of the deceased's surviving kin and friends, as well as a means of reaffirming ties among households and community solidarity.