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Puerto Rican Flag

By Jose B. Rivera

A very well written article by Democratic District Leader Evette Zayas and 68th Assembly District Intern Yelimar Quinones.  Our thanks to Assemblyman Adam Powell’s Office for this article.

Pride is something people demonstrate in different ways.  One way Puerto Ricans demonstrate pride is by displaying their flag during times of celebration. The biggest celebration known to all Puerto Ricans is the Puerto Rican Day Parade.  At times people say “I am proud to be a Puerto Rican.”  Why is it that Puerto Ricans display the Puerto Rican flag to show their pride?  An answer to this question can be better understood by learning about the origin of the Puerto Rican flag.  The historical origin of our flag tells the history of a people that wanted their land to be distinctly recognized for what it was, not for who it belonged to. As time goes by and people are willing to accept and understand other people’s culture, new alternatives are being sought to teach our children about themselves and others. One of the subjects that should be taught to our children is flag etiquette and that is something that unfortunately a lot of us Puerto Ricans have failed to take into consideration. 

According to recent research conducted by Evette Zayas, District Leader 68th Assembly District Part A and Constituent Liaison to Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, and Yelimar Quinones, intern to Assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV, in pursuit of Puerto Rican awareness, the following data was collected to serve as a guide in understanding the Puerto Rican flag:

Dating back to 1892, Puerto Rico and Cuba were the only two Spanish colonies in the Western Hemisphere that remained under Spanish rule.  It was in 1892 that a group of patriotic exiles from the Cuban Revolutionary Party came together in New York City.  It was this group who believed that by working with one another, Puerto Ricans and Cubans could get independence from Spain.  In 1895, the Puerto Rican revolutionaries organized themselves within the Cuban Revolutionary Party.  They were known as the “Puerto Rican Section of the Cuban Revolutionary Party,” led by Dr. Julio J. Henna who was then appointed as president of this division.

As a part of their efforts, the Revolutionary Party decided to create a flag.  This flag would be a symbol of their cause and would be used to rally support for the independence of Cuba and Puerto Rico.  Some controversy surrounds the fact of who actually designed the flag that we recognize as our flag today.  Some of those recognized for being the creator are, Jose of the Matta Terraforte, Antonio Velez Alvarado, Manuel Besosa, Gonzalo (Pachon) Marin, and Ramon Emeterio Betances.  It has been hard to pinpoint who exactly created it because of all the excitement at the meeting in Chimney Hall, no one thought to have the person’s name written.  Nonetheless on December 22, 1895, in the general assembly of Chimney Hall, the flag was adopted as a revolutionary symbol of independence from Spain.  The design of the flag was the design of the Cuban flag, simply inverted.  The flag consists of 5 stripes that alternate from red to white.  Three of the stripes are red with the other two being white.  To the left of the flag is a blue triangle that houses one white five-pointed star.  Each parts of this flag have their own meanings.  The three red stripes represented the blood from the brave warriors.  The two white stripes represented the victory and peace that they would have after gaining independence.  The white star represented the beautiful island of Puerto Rico.

A few years after Puerto Rico’s revolutionary flag was created, on November 28, 1897 Spain granted Puerto Rico a Charter of Autonomy.  The Charter of Autonomy meant that Puerto Rico had the right to self governing.  As a result, Puerto Rico was able to elect its own residents to be in Spain’s government to represent Puerto Rico.  Those elected officials had the power to accept or reject commercial treaties introduced by Spain.  After electing its representatives, Puerto Rico became self-governing on July 17, 1898.  Unfortunately three months earlier Spain and America had broken out into what is known as the Spanish-American war.  Only a few months later, on October 18, 1898 Puerto Rico had been seized by the Americans and their government was now a military one.  This meant that the Puerto Rican people were under the control of the American armed forces. 

This was a very sad time in history for the Puerto Ricans.  For the first time in their history they had had a quick glimmer of what it was to be “autonomous” (self governing) and before they could fully understand what that meant to be, they were taken over with no say on their part, which meant no more elections.  On December 10, 1898 under the Treaty of Paris, Puerto Rico along with Guam and the Philippines were given to the United States as “spoils of war” (benefits given to a winner of a war).  This seemed devastating to Puerto Ricans.  It was not until May 1, 1900 that Puerto Rico was finally granted a civil government (a government that is run by the people) under the Foraker Act after having been under a military government for two years.  The Foraker Act allowed Puerto Ricans to vote for their local officials but not for their governor.  He was appointed by the United States President.

For the following seventeen years after 1900, Puerto Ricans were simply considered property of the United States.  Though under the U.S. rule, Puerto Ricans were not given any American rights.  This changed when President Woodrow Wilson on March 2, 1917 signed the Jones Act.  This act gave Puerto Ricans American citizenship along with the freedoms outlined in the United States constitution.  However, those in government positions were appointed by the United States.

Decades later in 1946 Puerto Rico saw its first Puerto Rican governor, Jesus T. Pineiro.  But it was not until 1947 that the United States Congress gave Puerto Ricans the right to vote for their governor.  Unlike Pineiro Luis Munoz Marin was the first Puerto Rican governor to be elected by the people, not appointed by the United States.  In 1951, Puerto Ricans, under U.S law, were granted the right to draft their own constitution.  The new constitution was then voted on by referendum (direct vote from the people on a proposed public issue), gaining the approval of the Puerto Ricans.  On July 25, 1952 Puerto Rico’s status shifted from being a U.S. territory to becoming the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico’s status as a commonwealth, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, indicates that it has a special status as a self-governing, autonomous political unit voluntarily associated with the United States.  It was at this same time that the once revolutionary flag of Puerto Rico became the official flag representing the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in a worldwide context as its own entity.  The symbolism behind the flag somewhat changed when the flag was approved by Puerto Rico’s established legislature.  The red stripes from that point on stand for the blood that has been shed in the name of the democratic three branches of government: the legislative, the executive and the judiciary.  The white stripes represent the freedom and liberty provided by our government.  The blue triangle represents the ‘Republican government’ (a government with a President) that Puerto Rico is under and the lone star within the blue triangle is the symbol of the ‘Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.’  Knowing what the flag represents is the first step in regaining our sense of pride and passing it on to our future generations.

Puerto Rican discovery week as we believe it to be is about the heritage and the cultural awareness of Puerto Ricans.  As time goes by and people are willing to accept and understand other people’s culture, new alternatives are being sought to teach our children. For instance, our school system has adopted charter schools to enrich our children where the traditional schools that we grew up with are still educating our children on HIS-STORY.  Society’s acceptance of charter schools as the new wave of teaching our children is contrary to the teaching method of the past. In addition to learning the everyday academics they incorporate the sharing of cultural ideas.  Traditional schools should take notice of this and implement the same. 

One of the subjects that should be taught to our children is flag etiquette. Flag etiquette is something that unfortunately a lot of us Puerto Ricans have failed to take into consideration.  But do not feel embarrassed because the fact is that many of us do not even know that such a thing exists.  Our flag is a representation of not only our land but it is also a representation of the struggle of a people.  The following information should serve as an important tool in knowing how to handle and display our beautiful flag which is so rich in history.

Traditionally it is addressed as the “Puerto Rican flag” but the Official name of the flag is “The Flag of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.”

Where and in what place the flag should be flown
If weather conditions permit, the flag should be flown in or near the public buildings during workdays and on the following holidays:
New Year- Jan 1   Remembrance Day- May 30
Three Kings Day- Jan 6   USA Independence Day- July 4
Eugenio Maria de Hostos Birthday- Jan 11 Luis Munoz Rivera Birthday- July17
Washington’s Birthday- Feb 22   Constitution of PR Day- July 25
Abolition of Slavery Day- Mar 22         Jose Celso Barbosa Birthday- July 27
Jose de Diego Birthday- Apr 16
The flag should be flown in or near voting locations during general or special election days
During school sessions the flag should be flown in or near the schools

Display in Offices, Businesses, Dependents of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico
The Puerto Rican flag should always go to the left of the flag of the United States of America.

Display next to the United States of America Flag
The Puerto Rican flag should be flown from a pole adjacent to the pole where the USA flag is flown.  The Puerto Rican flag should always stay to the left of the USA flag and both are to be flown at the same height.  The Puerto Rican flag should be raised after the United States’ flag is risen and put down before the United States’ flag

Display in front of a building
When the flag is to be flown in front of a building in front of a window or balcony, the blue equilateral triangle should stay on top of the pole unless, the flag is raised at half mast.

Display on a Vehicle
The flag should not be put on the hood, the motor cover, the sides, the back of any vehicle be that vehicle a car, train, etc.
When the flag is to be displayed on a vehicle it should be securely attached to a pole.

Display when a pole is not used
The flag should be displayed, extended flatly, vertically or horizontally, in a way that it falls freely without any folds.

Display on a street
When the flag is displayed over a street, the flag should suspend itself vertically with the base of the blue triangle facing downward.

Display on a wall
If the flag is placed horizontally on a wall, the colors should stay completely displayed, with the triangle facing to its right.  In other words, to the left of the person who looks at it.

Display in parades
The flag when in a parade must always be to the left of the United States of America flag, making sure that both stay at the same height and at the same angle.
If there are other private or public organizations, there flags follow directly behind the two flags or to the left of them.

Prohibited Usages
The flag should not be knitted or bordered over cushions, bandanas or similar articles, nor be printed on napkins, be they of any material, neither on boxes, nor on any article that is disposable.

Respect for the flag
No person should mutilate, damage, profane, step on, insult or depreciate the flag with words.

How to destroy the flag
When the conditions of the flag are at the point that it cannot longer be used, it should be destroyed in private, in a respectful manner, preferably incinerating it.

How to Wash the flag
In cases where it must be absolutely necessary to wash the flag, the washing of the flag should be in private and in a respectful manner.

How to Fold the Flags
The flag should be folded according to a system accustomed for the United States’ flag, in other words, in a triangle form.  The folds should be done in a manner in which the star of the triangle of the flag is shown on the top part of the triangle, folded once.

Care- Prohibitions for the flag
It should not be permitted that the flag touch the earth or floor, or be drug in the water.  Neither should the flag be held, displayed, used, or put away in a way that it gets scraped, stained, or easily exposed to getting damaged.
The flag should not be used to cover the roof of a business.

Because of our past Puerto Rican leaders who fought for our symbol of representation, we are now able to display our flag during times of celebration.  We have to also remember that in the celebration we have to honor the plight & fight we have endured to get us to this stage.  Puerto Ricans usually display the flag more prominently during the Puerto Rican discovery week that is celebrated the second week of June from the 6th to the 13th.  This is the time when you will see the Puerto Rican flag waving from apartment windows, and on the antennas of cars.  In addition to being fastened to the hoods of cars, and hanging from community lamp poles.  Puerto Ricans have taken wearing their pride as part of their wardrobe. Wearing the flag as part of someone’s wardrobe is a misconception of their pride.  The flag was brought about for other reasons.  Reasons that present Puerto Ricans are not aware of and after reading this research we hope that all Puerto Ricans become enlightened and regain a sense of pride. The history of our flag should be a part of our celebration during Puerto Rican discovery week.  The celebration of who we are and where we come from and what our flag symbolizes should be taught.  The flag is depicted by red & white stripes with a 5 point star resting in a blue triangle. No where in the history of the flag was there an adoption of super imposing a half naked woman on the flag, congas or any musical instruments, not even the coqui.  Although we are proud of our Puerto Rican women, the music we play and listen to, and our mascot, el coqui, we should not allow the altering of our flag to include other prides we may have of Puerto Rico, to be super imposed on our flag.  Often times we see a surge in pride around the time of the Puerto Rican Day Parade.  Many of us put our flags out for display and simply leave it up forgetting that there is a proper way of handling this beloved symbol.  Leaving the flag out from one event to another simply allows the flag to be frayed and tattered.  This is extremely disrespectful.  It appears to be that after an event such as the parade passes, our flag loses its value.  This gives a sense that we only proudly display our flags when all others are in accordance with our celebration but once the attention steers away, so does our respect and pride.

Fifty two years later our flag is still a symbol of the Puerto Rican identity.  We should take pride and respect our flag by adhering to the flag etiquette and not allow our flag to be demo grated.  We should not participate in supporting flags being sold with super imposed images of half naked women or any other kind of images we may think depicts Puerto Ricans.  We as Puerto Ricans should be aware of our heritage and our rich history.  We should always take pride in displaying our flag. 

There is a struggle behind every flag. And what you have read was our struggle.

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