Puerto Rico
A Commonwealth of the USA

On the 19th of November 1493, Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Puerto Rico. San Juan was already a city in the early 1500s. One of the first universities in the New World was founded there. One of the earliest attempts to colonize the US was led by Juan Ponce de Leon, governor of Puerto Rico, when around 1513 he led a small fleet from San Juan to the coast of Florida. Puerto Rico remained under Spanish rule and was granted autonomy in the late 1800s. During the Spanish American War, the US defeated the Spanish Navy in the Pacific and the Atlantic. The American fleet then proceeded towards Puerto Rico. There were landings at a couple of points on the island. The fleet laid siege to San Juan and bombarded the fortresses and the city. The 5000 defenders surrendered to the landing force of 15000. Thus, in 1898, Puerto Rico became a colony of the USA. The Foraker Act of 1900 made Puerto Ricans "citizens of Puerto Rico, entitled to the protection of the US". In 1917, congress passed the Jones Act granting US citizenship to all persons born in Puerto Rico. In 1950, congress enacted Law 600 that recognized Puerto Rico's right to self-rule and authorized the organization of a government based on a constitution drawn up by Puerto Ricans. The constitution creating the "Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico" (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico) was effective on the 25th of July 1952. Since then, Puerto Ricans have elected their own governor, cabinet members, and congress. Puerto Rico elects a "Resident Commissioner" in Washington who sits in congress (and can be a committee member) with voice but no vote. Puerto Ricans can vote in the US elections if they reside in the continental US. However, they cannot be candidates for the presidency of the US if they were born outside the continental US.

First US Shot of World War I in Puerto Rico

Puerto Ricans have participated and contributed as citizens of the US in many different ways. In the Armed Forces, they have participated in every conflict in which the US has been involved since 1898. The first shot of World War I (by the US) was fired by a Puerto Rican serving in the US Army, Colonel Teofilo Marxuach.

Colonel Marxuach was officer of the day at El Morro Fortress, at the entrance to San Juan Bay, on the 21st of March 1915. On that day, an armed supply ship for German submarines in the Atlantic, the Odenwald, tried to force its way out of the bay. Colonel Marxuach opened fire from the walls of the fortress and forced the ship to return to port and be interned. Medals earned by Puerto Rican servicemen and women include four Congressional Medals of Honor and numerous Silver and Bronz Stars. The 65th Infantry Regiment was one of the most decorated units in the Korean War. Puerto Ricans were awarded more Purple Hearts than servicemen from any other state on a per capita basis. Other distinguished Puerto Ricans in military service include Antonia Coelho de Novello, MD (a graduate of the U of PR School of Medicine) who was the US's first woman Surgeon General; Admiral Horacio Rivero (headed NATO for the US and was also US Ambassador to Spain); and Admiral Alberto Diaz (headed the San Diego Naval Medical District and Balboa Naval Hospital until 2001). An abbreviated list of other distinguished Puerto Ricans includes: singer Ricky Martin; 2001 Oscar winner Benicio del Toro (Traffic); heavyweight boxing champion John Ruiz (defeated Evander Holyfield); actors Jennifer Lopez and Raul Julia (Kiss of the Spider Woman, The Adam's Family, Romero); Oscar winners Rita Moreno (West Side Story) and Jose Ferrer (Cyrano de Bergerac, The Caine Mutiny Court Martial); Grammy winner Olga Tanon; Denise Quiñones Miss Universe 2001 (there are four Miss Universe from PR); middleweight champion Felix Trinidad; Wilfredo Benitez (youngest fighter in boxing history to win a world title, at age 17); golfer Chi-Chi Rodriguez (22 Senior PGA Tour championships); tennis champ Gigi Fernandez won two Olympic Gold medals and 14 Grand Slam titles (together with Natasha Zvereva); cellist Pablo Casals (whose mother was from Ponce, PR); Aida Alvarez who was the first Hispanic woman in the President's cabinet (SBA administrator 1997); and many more. Puerto Rico currently has its first woman governor, Mrs. Sila M. Calderon.

By: Dr. Antonio J. Grillo-López, MD
July 10, 2001

For more information please contact:
La Casa de Puerto Rico
P.O. Box 81982
San Diego, CA  92138
(619) 685-2847



House of Puerto Rico: Web Index

This website is maintained by the HPRSD Web Team