Puerto Rico’s first governor, appointed in 1509, was Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León. He named a city on the island Puerto Rico, or “rich port,” which later became the name by which the entire island was identified.
People fill pails with water at the Christopher Columbus Fountain in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, in 1920. Here, Columbus is said to have stepped on the shore and taken his first American drink.
Puerto Ricans have been US citizens since 1917, and the island has been a US commonwealth since 1952. Puerto Rico wrote its own constitution, which was approved by Congress and signed by President Harry S. Truman.
Puerto Ricans last voted on the question of statehood in 2012. A referendum asked voters if they wanted to change the island’s relationship with the United States: become the 51st state, gain independence or opt for sovereign “free association,” a designation that would give more autonomy. Most chose statehood, but the vote didn’t lead anywhere.
A woman leaves a voting station after casting her ballot in the June 2008 Democratic presidential primary between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in San Juan. Puerto Ricans can vote in US primaries but not in presidential elections.
Puerto Rican identity has played a prominent role in popular culture and entertainment. Hip-hop and breakdancing grew out of a multicultural New York landscape that included African-American and Puerto Rican youths. Here, a production of “West Side Story” features the fleet-footed Puerto Rican Sharks gang.
Prominent Puerto Rican Americans include Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, pictured, actor Benicio Del Toro and entertainer Jennifer Lopez.
A down economy and high migration away from the island to mainland America means lots of vacant buildings on the island. The governor announced Puerto Rico would seek a form of bankruptcy protection to restructure its $70 billion-plus debt in May 2017, the largest municipal restructuring in US history.