From the Isle of Beauty to the Isle of Enchantment: Corsicans in Puerto Rico
- e-Toile: Mr. Santiago Mari Roca, you are the President of the Association of Corsicans in Puerto Rico. Can you give us a brief description of this exodus and the reasons for choosing Puerto Rico, if there are any?
Santiago Mari Roca: Historians and scholars of Corse migration agree that the greatest number of Corsicans left the Island of Beauty during the course of the nineteenth century, although others had already migrated during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Several reasons explain political and economic nature fueling that first emigration.
On the one hand, the French influence in Corsica exerted by Napoleon Bonaparte made many of the partisans of Pascal Paoli turn to exile.
In exile, a large group engaged in trade between the Caribbean islands, including the French colonies, in addition to St. Thomas and Puerto Rico. This trade, and the profit produced, were a great attraction for other Corsicans to join this pioneering emigration.
On the other hand, the Royal Decree of Grace in 1815 attracted many migrants to Puerto Rico.
This Decree, with favorable conditions to foreigners wishing to settle in the Spanish colonies in America, "not only puts the Corsican immigration to Puerto Rico in a position to near parity with the children of the earth, but to some extent provides incentives others have not and that somehow promotes migration to Puerto Rico [...]."
The result of this decree was to create a community of Corsicans along the southern coast of Puerto Rico, which in turn became a base point for other Corsicans who wanted to continue on to other parts of America.
In fact, quite often the Corsican emigrants arrived in St. Thomas, passed through Puerto Rico, where they sometimes met with their families,and then sailed to the mainland or other islands in the Caribbean.
The appeal of the Decree of Grace lasted until 1836, when it was repealed by the Spanish government when there were no more vacant or unappropriated lands.
However, this did not stop the Corse emigration, rather it continued to increase, partly because there had already been established a Corsican community in Puerto Rico. (From the book The Corsican-American).
My family, for example, didn’t arrive until 1880. Three brothers came as teenagers to work in farms run by other Corsicans already established in Puerto Rico. The three of them established roots here but maintained ties with their family back in Corsica. Our family still maintains property there, with a house in Haute Corse constructed in 1550. (Answered with the assistance of Dr. Enrique Vivoni Farage) .
- e-Toile: Your community has remained very united. Have you been able to continue following Corse traditions despite living in a Carribean and Hispanic culture?
Santiago Mari Roca: The reality is that current generations have retained very few of the traditions of their ancestors. What they have conserved, however, is a entrepreneurial and hard working character. During reunions, we tell each other stories and it is very interesting to note how the personality of our parents is very similar despite their never having met or despite them living in different cities.
- e-Toile: As a very knowledgeable expert on the Island of Beauty, what grade would you give Puerto Rico and its people, who also knew how to rejoice in their origins?
I would give them a “10” or I would say that we have been “outstanding” when it comes to preserving our culture and valuing our origins with much pride.