Puerto Rico Emancipation Day

Día de la abolición de la esclavitud (Puerto Rico Emancipation Day) is March 22. It commemorates the day when slaves in Puerto Rico were officially freed by the Spanish Parliament on March 22, 1873.

In fact it’s the national holiday of Puerto Rico. The next holiday is observed on Monday, March 23, 2020.

It’s funny. If you say Puerto Rico Emancipation Day, most Puerto Ricans don’t know what you are talking about. In Spanish, it is “Día de la abolición de la esclavitud” (day of the abolition of slavery).

Día de la abolición de la esclavitud

Freedom is a very big deal no matter where you are, but the day has a special meaning for Puerto Ricans. That’s because we were colonized by Christopher Columbus in 1493 and the United States in 1898 and have not been free since. That’s why you hear cries about being the last colony.

In the natural poetry of the island, celebrating this day is a way of remembering the horrors of enslavement, but also of saying that we still want to be free.

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920 (The Jones Act) requires that all shipping to the island of Puerto Rico be done on U.S. flagged ships. This acts as a tax on Puerto Ricans that nearly doubles the price of imported goods. The law is outdated, unfair and really should be abolished.

Puerto Ricans have no voice in Washington. As U.S. citizens, we can vote in Federal elections if we live on the mainland, but cannot vote if we live in Puerto Rico. We have no representative in Congress.

That amounts to taxation without representation. The Boston Tea Party, one of the founding moments of the United States, was exactly about this issue. So it seems odd that understanding the importance of representation, we continue to impose this unfairness on Puerto Rico.

All of this of course begs the question of statehood or independence. There are valid arguments on both sides, but the issue is really complicated. Certainly nobody should want to replicate the mess of Brexit. But the desire for some kind of change is valid.

We would support whatever does the most good for the most Puerto Ricans on the island. We would support whatever creates the greatest sense of pride and self-sufficiency among Puerto Ricans.

It should be noted however, that today borders are showing themselves to be an artificial construct, only useful to politicians. Islands have natural borders at the edge of the sea, but in the postmodern era, the young generation goes through them, under them, around them or over them.

The greatest border is the one in our own minds. Even if our bodies or our lands are enslaved, our minds can be free. This is something worth thinking about every Day of the Abolition of Slavery.


Puerto Rico Emancipation Day

Like everything around slavery, this wasn’t a clean or fair deal.

Slaves had to keep working for their owners for three more years, and owners were compensated 100 pesos for each slave. Can you believe that? The slavers were compensated, but not the slaves. That was really unfair.

A Puerto Rican Indemnity Slave Bond

A Puerto Rican Indemnity Slave Bond


A Puerto Rican Holiday

But there is nothing like being free and it’s a big celebration in Puerto Rico. We have parties, eat traditional food, remember what happened to us, and dream of a bright future for all Puerto Ricans.


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