The role of the government in the creation of Places and, the impact that that action has on Identity: A case study in Puerto Rico

Thumbnail Image

Publication or External Link





Identity is at the crux of a person’s life. People’s pursuit of uniqueness strongly motivates the process of constructing identity. Place has a major role in that process but present theories focused on identity consider places as manifestations of the self, at the mercy of their populations who change and give meaning to them. The research presented here demonstrates that places are more than personal or groups’ constructions and that they act as agents, directly influencing identity dimensions. This research tests how places created by the government -and not by the people who live in them- can directly influence identity creation in Puerto Rico.

The Island was selected as a case study because in 1948 the government decided to re-define “Puerto Ricannes” after recognizing the cultural influences the US was having on the population. Although it highlighted three groups as representatives of the culture -i.e., Tainos (Native-Indians), Spaniards (colonizers) and Africans (slaves)-, it selected the “Jíbaro” -a light-skinned peasant from the mountains- as the main representative of the “real” Puerto Rican. Today, even though PR is understood as a racially diverse place, over 75% of the population selects White as their race in the US Census. This study seeks to understand if the narratives created by the government about the Island influence how participants selected a racial category and identified with the ethnic/racial groups involved in history. Also, it tests how the construction of Loíza, (municipio with the highest proportion of “Blacks”) affects the way people talk and identify with it.

The research uses Mixed Methods to interpret data collected in four communities. The result are analyzed using two binary logistic regression models on over two-hundred-and-ninety surveys and, a Two-way Cluster Analysis based on frequency codes of twenty-five in-depth interviews. Findings suggest the identity construction the government has created around Puerto Rico and Loíza as places, actively informs participant responses to questions about their ethnic, national and racial identities.