Puerto Rican History: What We Don’t Learn in School


Enslavement – even that of people with primitive technology – is not an easy task. Oppression is a complicated process. When people come to exploit another group’s labor, steal their land and other natural resources, that invading group must create systems to facilitate their oppressive intentions. This process typically involves introducing artificial divisions among the people, assaulting and confusion their identity, justifying their mistreatment through religious and political ideologies, preventing rebellion, and creating laws and structures to punish those that do rebel.

Latinos comprise the largest and fastest-growing ethnic group in the United States.  Like any oppressed group, they take pride in their history and culture as evidenced for example in the popular Puerto Rican Day Parades in New York City and throughout the United States.

But when we examine the history of Puerto RIco and its people prior to and after Spanish conquest, we see many similarities between them and African people, including a long history of political struggle against forces of domination. Unfortunately this important history of conquest and resistance is often obscured behind a campaign of miseducation and our own misguided attempts to assimilate  “American” values and cultural identity.

So we have populations of Black people who are “proud to be Black,” but can’t soundly articulate the source of their pride beyond a roll-call of Black high-achievers and Black History trivia. Sadly, the same holds true for some of our Latino brethren who like us, ignore the American nightmare, buy into the “American Dream, and find themselves lacking a solid understanding of their indigenous culture, how they were/are oppressed, and their long history of resistance.

Seldom do we think about the languages we speak, religions we practice, or flags we salute and how these were imposed on us for particular reasons. This brief article will address this by exposing the history of Puerto Rico we never learned in school (As a NYC social studies teacher I proudly taught this to my students). Having large numbers and “pride” means nothing if we don’t educate and organize our people to love themselves, wield power to address our problems, and resist those that keep us all exploited and divided. We must begin to address the triple heritage of Latino people (Spanish, African, Native American), and be more inclusive and honest about Afro-Latino history.






That some of us still fight among ourselves, discriminate against each other, and view dark skin as ugly or inferior is both shameful and saddening. White supremacist and corporate propaganda leads us to view one another in hostile ways without realizing how as brother Malcolm said, “The same dog that bit you, bit us.” It’s time for us to revisit our elders’ activities in the 60s and 70s, and work, organize, and fight together.


 Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013 he wrote “The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook.” In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-SpanNY1 News, Huffington Post Live, and most recently on the A&E documentary, The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Mr. Tyehimba is a professional consultant and public speaker providing political advice and direction for Black college student organizations, community activist groups, and nonprofit organizations. If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at truself143@gmail.com.

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