On its exact date, November 19, Biblioteca Criolla of the Jersey City Free Public Library presented a special program commemorating the Discovery of Puerto Rico, with over 40 people attending the 2013 celebration. Ray Benitez opened the program with a rousing rendition of the Puerto Rican national anthem, La Borinqueña. Scholar and author Priscilla Renta was the keynote speaker, with the featured entertainment, the Bembé Collective, an Afro-Caribbean dance and music ensemble. Refreshments were donated by the staff of Biblioteca Criolla.

Providing some historical perspective on the Discovery of Puerto Rico is a passage that appeared in the 2010 Minority Business and Economic Report of the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce:
“On November 19, 1493, after commencing his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus landed on an island, naming it San Juan Bautista in honor of Saint John the Baptist. The first settlement, Caparra, was founded on August 8, 1508 by Juan Ponce de León, a lieutenant under Columbus, who later became the first governor of the island. The following year, the settlement was abandoned in favor of a nearby islet on the coast, named Puerto Rico (Rich Port), which had a suitable harbor. In 1511, a second settlement, San Germán was established in the southwestern part of the island. During the 1520s, the island took the name of Puerto Rico while the port became San Juan.

“Located in the northeastern Caribbean, Puerto Rico formed a key part of the Spanish Empire from the early years of the exploration, conquest and colonization of the New World. The island was a major military post during many wars between Spain and other European powers for control of the region in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The smallest of the Greater Antilles, Puerto Rico was a stepping-stone in the passage from Europe to Cuba, Mexico, Central America, and the northern territories of South America. Throughout most of the 19th century until the conclusion of the Spanish–American War, Puerto Rico and Cuba were the last two Spanish colonies in the New World; they served as Spain’s final outposts in a strategy to regain control of the American continents.

“In 1898, during the Spanish–American war, Puerto Rico was invaded and subsequently became a possession of the United States. The first half of the 20th century was marked by the struggle to obtain greater democratic rights from the United States. The Foraker Act of 1900, which established a civil government, and the Jones Act of 1917, which made Puerto Ricans U.S. citizens, paved the way for the drafting of Puerto Rico’s Constitution and the establishment of democratic elections in 1952. However, the political status of Puerto Rico, a Commonwealth controlled by the United States, remains an anomaly more than 500 years after the first Europeans settled the island.”

The Discovery of Puerto Rico, or Día del Descubrimiento de Puerto Rico, in Spanish, is a source of pride to those living in the island of Puerto Rico, which is celebrated with all schools and public offices being closed, and an annual parade marking the occasion on November 19.

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