Bella Vida by Letty

Women of Puerto Rico in 1899

I just love looking at old photos and rediscovering the roles of women throughout history.  I’m fascinated with the history of Puerto Rico and her people because in some way they are my ancestors.

The Puertorican women I know today have great inner strength comparible to the steel frame of skyscrapers. Do we carry these traits in our DNA or is it learned?  I believe it is a combination of both.

The following photos are from the archives of the Library of Congress.  I go there to dig and play since I have never found an accurate account of our history:  

Puertorican history, Taino history, African history in the Americas, 
European history in the Americas, my history.

 I have found pieces here and there but wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a huge accurate archive today?

The history books thrust upon me in school are filled from beginning to end with so many lies and one sided stories. It’s a disservice to the planet as well to European history in the Americas. In an attempt to make them seem intelligent and superior in these texts, today ‘s  interpretation would paint them as inhumane monsters lacking morals or values in their treatment of fellow man.

I’m hoping that by gazing on these beautiful faces I can connect the dots. ~ Maybe even connect with them or the essence of who they once were.  ~ Maybe find a balance that makes logical sense by weaving the unwritten stories and the written lies.

Title: Porto Rico, Hoeing sugar cane Date Created/Published: Niagara Falls, N.Y. : M.H. Zahner, publisher, c1899              Two women hoeing field, with child standing behind.

In this series of photos I’m focusing on life in the year 1899, the year my maternal grandfather was born. The photo shows women working in the Sugar Cane Fields. Until now, I never imagined women working in this setting. I had only heard and read stories of men performing this back breaking hard labor.

My maternal grandfather worked in these fields before organizing the first workers union in his town. He later went on to become a farmer. Before going into the army my paternal grandfather also worked in sugar cane fields.

I look at these women and picture myself in their place. I could find peace in the rhythm of the task, in connecting with the earth herself and being thankful for the nourishment she provides, I a link in that chain. But when the sun shone at it’s peak beaming upon my forehead I would want to seek the sanctuary of shade and an ice cold drink. Surely adding to that discomfort would be witnessing my young child working in the sweltering heat of midday alongside me.

Sometime around 1515, after abusing and exploiting the Indian population of the island through hard labor and poor working conditions for approximately 60 years after the first Europeans landed they began aggressively introducing African slaves. Over 350 years later on March 22, 1873, slavery was abolished in Puerto Rico. This photo was taken 26 years later.

Were these women really free? Do you feel free today?

Title: Amidst the charms of Porto Rico – delicious pineapples in the fields of Mayaguez Date Created/Published: NY: Strohmeyer & Wyman, c1899 Aug. 22.  Women and children in pineapple field.

In 1899 long sleeves and skirts protect these women from the knifelike leaves of the pineapple plant. We are left to wonder why these women and children would expose themselves to the sharpness surrounding them in this field.

We know the pineapple was brought to the Caribbean area through Indian migration and commerce. These nautical experts traversed this entire side of the planet for centuries before Europeans accidentally found it. The sweet fruit producing plant originally evolved in South American inland areas of what is now Brazil and Paraguay. Pineapple was a staple of Indian feasts and rites. It was used to produce Indian wine as well as a medicinal plant. The root and fruit were used as an anti-inflammatory with enzymes that help the digestive system, as an anti-parasitic agent and a diuretic. The plants leaves are considered to be useful in encouraging the onset of menstrual periods and easing painful ones.



My maternal grandmother had curly hair as long as the woman in this picture. During the day she wore it in a bun then at night it was like the revelation of a secret to see it hanging down to her waist. As a very young girl I would beg her to let me comb sweet smelling coconut oil through it with her fancy comb. Sometimes she would actually let me and I am grateful today for this memory still brings me joy. Grandmothers are the greatest. I wish I had a jar of that coconut hair product so I could inhale its aroma to help me remember even more details.

How do you preserve your family history?

HISTORY: past events, experiences, ancient times, antiquity, bygone times, good old days, old days, olden days, past, yesterday, yesteryear, chronicle of events, account, annals, autobiography, biography, diary, epic, journal, memoirs, narration, narrative, prehistory, recapitulation, recital, record, relation, report, saga, story, tale, version

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