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Puerto Rico, People

mulattos, mixed heritage, economic mobility, abolition of slavery, plantation owners

According to the 2000 census, Puerto Rico had 3,808,610 inhabitants, an increase of 8.1 percent over the 1990 figure of 3,536,910. The population estimate for 2002 was 3,957,988. The average population density in 2001 was 439 persons per sq km (1,138 persons per sq mi), a higher density than in any state. In 2000 whites constituted 80.5 percent of the population, blacks 8 percent, Asians 0.2 percent, Native Americans 0.4 percent, and those of mixed heritage or not reporting race 11 percent. Hispanics, who may be of any race, were 98.8 percent of Puerto Rico’s population. Spanish and English are the official languages of the commonwealth, but Spanish is the primary language. Almost 75 percent of the people are Roman Catholic.

During most of the nearly 400 years of Spanish colonial rule, Puerto Rican society was legally divided into castes. The highest caste consisted of whites. The middle caste was composed of free blacks and mulattos (individuals of mixed European and African descent). Slaves made up the lowest caste. Puerto Rican society was also divided into social classes. Within these classes, there was more fluidity. In the upper class were plantation owners, other large landowners, wealthy merchants, and leading bureaucrats. The middle class included small-scale farmers, merchants, artisans, and bureaucrats. The lower class included unskilled laborers, artisans, and small storekeepers. Whites were found in the upper, middle, and lower classes, but they were never slaves. The clergy also spanned all three classes and were generally white. Free people of color were generally in the middle and lower social classes with a few ascending to the upper class. Slaves did not have any social mobility; they consistently remained at the bottom of the society.

Following the abolition of slavery in 1873, Puerto Rico’s social structure changed. The sharp division between classes began to blur. This process accelerated after the economy industrialized in the 1940s and 1950s. By the early 21st century, Puerto Ricans had increased social mobility and much greater opportunities because of universal access to education and a more developed economy. Although some vestiges of the traditional social structure still persisted and not all remnants of racial prejudice were eliminated, modern society in Puerto Rico by and large permitted a great deal of social and economic mobility.

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Article key phrases:

mulattos, mixed heritage, economic mobility, abolition of slavery, plantation owners, vestiges, social mobility, free blacks, Puerto Ricans, higher density, universal access, African descent, official languages, castes, fluidity, census, primary language, commonwealth, Native Americans, middle class, upper class, artisans, clergy, Hispanics, Roman Catholic, ascending, Slaves, blacks, modern society, whites, inhabitants, Asians, figure, Spanish, century, race, state, classes, increase, persons, education, people, process, English


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