Puerto Rico is a colony in a post-colonial era, a United States territory but not a state. Residents from the USA have easy access to the island without the need of a US Passport; first time visitors will find many stateside conveniences and rest easy with the safety of being in American protected land, yet enjoy a rich cultural experience that feels more like a different country.
These facts are encapsulated into the flag, so we invite you to hang around and take a few minutes to explore this page, created to give readers the highlights of the history of the Puerto Rico flag, which is deeply embedded into the everyday lives of Puerto Ricans. The history is much more than colors and stripes. We have included music and photo galleries of images taken around the island. The flag tells tales of past dreams, current life on the island and hopes for the future.
Love & Pride for the Flag - Que Bonita Bandera!
A Little History about the Puerto Rican Flag
The First Puerto Rican Flag
On September 23, 1868, Puerto Ricans had reached their climax against the maltreatment and oppression of the Spaniards who governed Puerto Rico leading to a revolutionary movement in the town of Lares, the outcry known as “El grito de Lares” for the independence of Puerto Ricans from their Colonist occupants. During that time, the first concept of the national Puerto Rican flag emerged, the flag of the revolutionaries, deeply symbolizing the ideals of the Grito de Lares revolution. Independence leader Ramon Emeterio Betances designed the first Puerto Rican flag, inspired by the design of the Dominican Republic’s flag due to the common ideal of being free from Spain and uniting to form the Antillean Confederation. The flag was embroidered by Mariela Bracetti. This flag was proclaimed the national flag of the Republic of Puerto Rico by Francisco Ramirez Medina, the first President.
Flags Flown in Puerto Rico as a Spanish Colony
In 1873, a new colonial flag was introduced by the Spanish government, a design which resembled the flag of Spain, with a coat of arms in the center. This flag was used until 1898 when the island became a possession of the United States as a result of the Spanish – American War.
Following are other flags flown in Puerto Rico under the Spanish imperialism.
The Gag Law
Outlawing the flag ignites the creation of one of the biggest cultural pride parades.
The long awaited desired independence from Spain came at the expense of the Imperialism of the United States of America. The flag of the United States was raised in Puerto Rico on October 18, 1898, when the U.S officially took control of the island during the Spanish-American War. Puerto Rico became a United States territory in 1917.
This transition brought a new series of events that propel such national pride demonstration. During the transition, the United States made attempts to Americanize the people of Puerto Rico. Conversely, the islanders did not adapt to such a notion of redefining their customs and beliefs, which lead to unity of political parties and a greater push for national patriotism.
From the day Puerto Rico was annexed to the United States on December 10, 1898 until 1952, it was a felony to display the Puerto Rican flag; the flag of the United States was the only flag permitted to be displayed. Luis Muñoz Marin, then president of the Puerto Rican senate, passed the bill Law 53 of 1948 (Ley de la Mordaza) – in English known as the Gag Law.(1) Law 53 made it illegal to display or own the Puerto Rican flag, to speak or write about independence of Puerto Rico, to sing a patriotic song, or to meet or hold assembly in favor of the independence of Puerto Rico from the United States. The bill was signed into law in June 10, 1948 by Jesús T. Piñero, the new appointed governor by the United States. Anyone who displayed the Puerto Rico Flag or spoke of independence, broke the law and would go to jail for years.(2)
Such restrictive sanctions had a counter-effect in Puerto Rico, through the next few decades, this law propelled many to fight for cultural nationalism. A number of revolts occurred resulting in 28 fatalities: 16 Nationalists, 7 police officers and 1 National Guardsman.(3) Poet Francisco Matos Paoli from the town of Lares, faced a prison sentence of 20 years, later reduced to 10 years, evidence used against him found by police in his home was a Puerto Rican flag and four speeches about Puerto Rico’s independence; he shared a jail cell with Pedro Albizu Campos.(4)
Although the Gag Law was unconstitutional, it remained until 1957, when it was finally repealed.
People hold the flag, wear the flag and and march with fellow Puerto Ricans that come from all different states songs. They sing in tune songs like “Que Bonita Bandera, Preciosa and La Borinqueña“. This spectacular parade roots from Law 53, Puerto Ricans never take for granted their ability to hold, display, wear, embrace or sing to their beloved Monoestrellada flag.
Design and History of the Official Flag of Puerto Rico (Bandera de Puerto Rico)
How the flag was designed is still somewhat of a mystery with some conflicting facts among historians, there are various anecdotes that explain the process.
During gatherings at Chimney Corner Hall in New York City the flag of Puerto Rico, revolutionaries and patriots unanimosuly voted to adopt Alvarado’s design the 22nd day of December of 1895, it was adopted with the passionate heart of one day being able to enjoy full Puerto Rican independence and sovereignty. This flag was first flown in March 24, 1897, during a revolt in town of Yauco known as the “Intentona de Yauco“, the second and last revolt against the colonial rule of Spain, led by the pro-independence movement. In July 25, 1952, the flag was adopted as the national flag when Puerto Rico became Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, literally translation is Free Associated State of Puerto Rico).
The American Flag & Pride
Although the history of our flag clearly focuses on nationalists desire for independence, if you were to visit Puerto Rico you’ll see that islanders are quite Americanized in many aspects of everyday life, most of the private schools are bilingual, and there are more Puerto Ricans living in the United States than on the island. Most Puerto Ricans have historically left the island seeking for better job opportunities. As United States citizens, Puerto Ricans are offended when most mainland citizens are unaware of the fact that Puerto Ricans are citizens as well. Although Puerto Ricans hold strong cultural pride, they consider themselves just as American as any other U.S. Citizen. The great American Flag is proudly flown right next to the Puerto Rican flag.
In June of 2017, a non-binding statehood referendum took place, an overwhelming percentage of Puerto Ricans voted for statehood. Puerto Rican, a term just like New Yorkers or Hawaiian, obviously describes the state of origin, all American, residents of the island lack the great privilege of voting for their President. Puerto Ricans have U.S. Passports, if they live within the 50 states they may vote for President but if they reside on the island, the privilege is lost. Antonio Rosselló Nevares, the current Governor from Partido Nuevo Progresista (PNP) (New Progressive Party) is strongly advocating for Puerto Rico to become the 51st state, ultimately the decision is in the hands of the members of Congress.
What does the colors of the Puerto Rican flag mean?
Following are two known facts about the symbolism of the Puerto Rico flag (Gutterman D., 1998). It was not until the 1950s when the political mentality focus on cultural nationalism “became the ideology of the Estado Libre Asociado de Puerto Rico.” (Duany, 2017)
- Red Stripes – The blood from the brave warriors of the revolution.
- White Stripes – Victory and peace after obtaining independence.
- Blue Triangle– Our sky and sea.
- White Lone Star– Our beautiful Island.
- Red Stripes – stands for the “blood” that nourishes the three branches of our government; Legislative, Executive and Judiciary.
- White Stripes – represents individual liberty and the rights that keeps in perfect balance our form of government.
- Blue Triangle – stands for the “Republican Government”, represented by the three branches.
- White Lone Star – represents “The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico”
Nostalgia...Es lo que lleva en el alma, todo aquél cuando se aleja
While in foreign land or the mainland of the United States, the flag is proudly placed in the homes, as they go in their daily life, the flag brings on memories of great times mixed with nostalgia and melancholy of what life could have been if only they could have stayed in their beloved Borinquen.
Patria - Lyrics (Spanish)
Por el significado de la palabra patria
Me sorprendió con su pregunta
y con el alma en la garganta le dije así:
Flor de barrio, hermanito
Patria, son tantas cosas bellas
Como aquel viejo árbol
del que nos habla aquel poema
Como el cariño que aun guardas
después de muerta abuela
Patria son tantas cosas bellas
Son las paredes de un barrio
Y en su esperanza morena
Es lo que lleva en el alma
todo aquél cuando se aleja
Son los mártires que gritan
bandera, bandera, bandera
No memorices lecciones
de dictaduras o encierros
La patria no la define
el que suprime a su pueblo
Patria es un sentimiento
en la mirada de un viejo
Sol de eterna primavera
risa de hermanita nueva
Te contesto, hermanito:
Patria son tantas cosas bellas
A la, la la…
Patria - Lyrics - English Translation
For the meaning of the word Patria
I was surprised by his question
and with my soul in my throat, I told him so;
Barrio flower, my little brother
Patria, it is so many beautiful things
It is like that old tree
spoken about in that poem
It is like the love you still hold
for grandmother after she passes away
Patria it is so many beautiful things
It is the walls of the barrio (neighborhood)
And in its brown skin hope
It is what’s carried in the soul
to each that departs from home
It is the martyrs that scream
Bandera (flag), bandera, bandera…
Don’t memorize lessons
of dictatorships or confinements
Patria is not defined
by those who suppress their country
Patria is a sentiment
in the gaze of an old man
Sun of eternal spring
laughter of a new little sister
I answer you, little brother:
Patria, it is so many beautiful things
La, la la…
Translation by Luisa Cupeles
The Continued Conflict over the Puerto Rican Flag
Which is the correct blue of the triangle of the Puerto Rican flag?
Political issues aside, both celestial blue and navy blue are used by local and artisans displaying the flag. The navy blue triangle is more widely used, it is used in all official buildings.
To those that with strong political convictions, the discussion of the color seems to be rooted in opinions of what the status of Puerto Rico ought to be rather than historical correctness. Those that prefer independence fervently favor celestial blue, those that favor statehood favor the U.S.A. flag’s navy blue. A few argue that the original color is indigo blue like the Cuban flag since the design of the Puerto Rican flag was exactly like it with the colors inverted.
The new trend seems to be going back to celestial blue. It seems that no matter which color is on the flag, it changes nothing about the feeling and meaning it holds for Puerto Ricans. Although a beloved symbol, love and pride does not come from the flag, it comes from the love shared with family and friends, memories made on the island and respect for Patria in the heart.
Whether celestial or navy blue, it is still the Bonita Bandera.
Interesting Facts about the Puerto Rican Flag
- Día de la Bandera – The 22nd of December is the official Puerto Rican Flag Day (Día de la Bandera). The 22nd of December the flag was raised for the first time in Chimney Corner Hall in the city of New York. Ateneo Puertorriqueño celebrates Día de la Bandera. The town of Manati, birthplace of Antonio Velez Alvarado, celebrates Día de la Bandera on the 11th of June, the date the flag was created, two years before it was adopted in 1892.
- Puerto Ricans proudly enjoys the benefits of participating in the Olympics as a nation under their own flag being waved with pride.
- Puerto Rico has the largest national parade demonstration throughout the United States of America, the Puerto Rican flag is the symbol of cultural pride in the parade.
Our Favorite Places to Observe the Puerto Rican Flag
Old San Juan Historic District – San Juan, Puerto Rico
A brand new flag was painted at Calle Imperial, don’t miss it on your walking tour along Calle Norzagaray.
Up until last year, one of the most photographed flags was painted on the door of a decaying building in Calle San Jose, the summer of 2016, a group of artists wanting to express their political opinions gave it a new coat of paint in black and white; the colors express the dark times the island is facing, specifically the negative consequences of PROMESA on the island.
Flags on Beaches around the Island of Puerto Rico
If you explore the beaches around the island you may find a pole with the flag on a rock rising from the water in unexpected spots. For Puerto Ricans it is a wonderful sight, a place to sit down and appreciate the privilege of being born on such a beautiful place.
Our favorite flags on the beach are located at Survival Beach in Aguadilla and Playa Pastillo in Isabela. In addition to traditional flag poles, you’ll find fishermen boats painted with flags, the best towns for observing boats are on the west coast of Puerto Rico. Crashboat Beach in Aguadilla is the most popular, as the name suggests, many fishermen boats crash on the north end of the beach, a great spot for photographers with the sun setting on the water as a background. The new Malecon in Aguadilla also has some boats, a little further north there are more boats with flags at Rompeolas beach.
The Town of Lares, Puerto Rico
At the center of the plaza, there’s a small monument with the bust of Ramón Emeterio Betances with a flag of Lares painted on the column. Our favorite display of the flag is painted on an old pick up truck humbly detailed Jibaro style; the owner is super friendly, ready to help visitors and answer any question, he sell souveniers, traditional music cd’s and more with… you guessed it, the Puerto Rican and Lares flags as the main theme. Be sure to visit Mirador (Observation Deck) Mariana Bracetti (The Betsy Ross of Puerto Rico), it is a very nice stop for families, a great place to taste Puerto Rican food at local prices, there is a fun zip line and two observation decks with great views of the valley of Lares and the mountains of Cordillera Central. The lower observation area has a flag creatively painted on a seating area, an excellent photo-op for families.
Plazas (Squares) of Municipalities
Municipality officials allow local artists to express their love for Patria, flags can be found painted on murals, light poles, benches and more. Just at about every plaza, visitors can find souvenir shops with gifts crafted by local artisans.
– (2) Wikipedia – Gag Law – Retrieved August 28, 2017 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gag_Law_(Puerto_Rico)
– (3) http://nersp.osg.ufl.edu/~malavet/seminar/notes04.htm
– (4) Wikipedia – Francisco Matos Paoli – Retrieved August 28, 2017 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francisco_Matos_Paoli
– (5) El Nuevo Dia – ¿Cuál es el azul correcto de la bandera puertorriqueña? – Published 12/23/2004 – Retrieved August 26, 2017 – http://www.primerahora.com/noticias/puerto-rico/nota/cualeselazulcorrectodelabanderapuertorriquena-1055126
– Cruz, M. A. (2014). Dream nation: Puerto Rican culture and the fictions of independence (Latinidad: Transnational Cultures in the United States). New Brunswick, New Jersey, and London: American Literatures Initiative. ISBN 978-0-8135-6548-4 (e-book)
– Duany, J. (2017). Puerto Rico: What Everyone Needs to Know. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN978-0-1906-4872-5 (e-book)
– T Moscoso, F., Dr. (2014, September 12). -A brief historical background. Retrieved June 08, 2017 – http://www.enciclopediapr.org/ing/print_version.cfm?ref=06101303
– Wikipedia – Luis L – Retrieved August 26, 2017 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_Llor%C3%A9ns_Torres
– Library of Congress – U.S. Raised the Flag in Puerto Rico October 18, 1898 – Retrieved August 28, 2017 – http://www.americaslibrary.gov/jb/progress/jb_progress_puerto_1.html
–EnciclopediaPR.org – El Grito de Lares – Retrieved August 26, 2017 – https://enciclopediapr.org/en/encyclopedia/the-grito-de-lares-1868/
– Wikipedia – Flag of Puerto Rico – Retrieved August 26, 2017 – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flag_of_Puerto_Rico
– Professor Pedro A. Malavet – America’s Colony, Chapter 3: Political Culture – Levin College of Law – Retrieved August 26, 2017 – http://nersp.osg.ufl.edu/~malavet/seminar/notes04.htm