The inhabitants of Puerto Rico represent a mix of races, cultures, languages, and religions. They draw their heritage from the original native population, from Spanish royalists who sought refuge here, from African slaves imported to work the sugar plantations, and from other Caribbean islanders who have come here seeking jobs. The Spanish they speak is a mix, too, with many words borrowed from the pre-Columbian Amerindian tongue as well as English. Even the Catholicism they practice incorporates some Taíno and African traditions.
Nearly four million people live on the main island, making it one of the most densely populated islands in the world. It has an average of about 1,000 people per square mile, a ratio higher than that of any of the 50 states. There are nearly as many Puerto Ricans living stateside as there are on the island. If they were to all return home, the island would be so crowded that there would be virtually no room for them to live.
When the United States acquired the island in 1898, most Puerto Ricans worked in agriculture; today most jobs are industrial. One-third of Puerto Rico's population is concentrated in the San Juan metropolitan area.
When the Spanish forced the Taíno peoples into slavery, virtually the entire indigenous population was decimated, except for a few Amerindians who escaped into the remote mountains. Eventually they intermarried with the poor Spanish farmers and became known as jíbaros. Because of industrialization and migration to the cities, few jíbaros remain.
Besides the slaves imported from Africa to work on the plantations, other ethnic groups joined the island's racial mix. Fleeing Simón Bolívar's independence movements in South America, Spanish loyalists headed to Puerto Rico -- a fiercely conservative Spanish colony during the early 1800s. French families also flocked here from both Louisiana and Haiti, as changing governments or violent revolutions turned their worlds upside down. As word of the rich sugar-cane economy reached economically depressed Scotland and Ireland, many farmers from those countries also journeyed to Puerto Rico in search of a better life.
During the mid-19th century, labor was needed to build roads. Initially, Chinese workers were imported for this task, followed by workers from countries such as Italy, France, Germany, and even Lebanon. American expatriates came to the island after 1898. Long after Spain had lost control of Puerto Rico, Spanish immigrants continued to arrive on the island. The most significant new immigrant population arrived in the 1960s, when thousands of Cubans fled from Fidel Castro's communist state. The latest arrivals in Puerto Rico have come from the Dominican Republic.
Islanders are most known for their contributions to popular music, and visitors here will no doubt see why. Sometimes, the whole island seems to be dancing. It's been that way since the Taínos, with music an important aspect of their religious and cultural ceremonies.
The latest musical craze born in Puerto Rico is reggaeton, an infectious blend of rap, reggae, and island rhythms, often accompanied by x-rated hip shaking. Daddy Yankee put the music on the world map with his hit "Gasolina"; other well-known island artists in the genre are the duo Wisin y Yandel and Don Omar. Vico C is a local rapper credited with being a pioneer for today's reggaeton stars.
Puerto Rico is still dominated by salsa, a mix of African, Caribbean, and North American rhythms. Salsa bands tend to be full orchestras, with brass sections and several percussionists. The beat is infectious and nonstop, but salsa dancing is all about smooth gyrations and style.
The late Tito Puente, a Latin Jazz master, was instrumental in the development of the music along with singer Ismael Miranda. Puerto Rican salsa won world-wide fame in the late 1970s and early 1980s through groups such as the Fania All Stars, who paired Héctor Lavoe, Rubén Blades and Willie Colón, and El Gran Combo, who still performs today after 40 years together. Famous contemporary practitioners are Gilberto Santa Rosa and Marc Anthony. Actress and singer Jennifer López, Anthony's wife, is another of Puerto Rico's most famous descendants. Their pet project, the biopic "El Cantante," based on Lavoe's life, was filmed in Puerto Rico and New York in 2007.
Jennifer López is not the only borinqueña to make a mark on the world stage: a total of four Puerto Rican women have won the Miss Universe competition, most recently Zuleyka Rivera in 2006.
The most famous Puerto Rican singer, however, is pop star Ricky Martin, who continues to be a hometown favorite and sells out shows during his frequent island performances.
Puerto Ricans have also made their mark in professional sports, particularly baseball. The most famous, of course, was Roberto Clemente, who is still a local legend and a role model for young ball players. Current professional baseball players from Puerto Rico include Jorge Posada; Carlos Delgado; Carlos Beltrán; Iván Rodríguez; and the Molina brothers, Bengie and Yadier.