What Ethnicity are Puerto Ricans and Are Puerto Ricans black or white?

This is a variation on the old question, “Are Hispanics a race?”. In the case of Puerto Ricans, the answer might be “neither,” “both,” or “the question is meaningless.”

Puerto Rico lacks the hard-and-fast separation between the races that is so much a part of life in the United States. Almost everyone in the commonwealth has some African and Native American mixed in with Spanish. There are not two races, but one ethnic culture with many racial gradations.

Most Puerto Ricans are triguerio, meaning they have light-brown skin. Lighter-skinned individuals are called blanco, or “white.” Darker-skinned persons are de color, “of color.” An indio is someone who looks Native American; a moreno looks like a black African. The terms negro or negrito are usually terms of endearment for people of any shade.

These racial groups intermarry, live in the same neighborhoods, and crop up in the same family. A brother may be triguefto, his sister Blanca, their mother de color. Light-skinned people with European features more often occupy positions of high social rank than dark-skinned people. But high rank is not closed to dark-skinned people.

Puerto Ricans in the United States have had to cope with a starkly biracial, or two-race, system that wants to classify them as either black or white. Like Chicanos, Puerto Ricans sometimes refer to themselves as brown to signify that they are neither.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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