The Taíno Movement: An Affirmation of Culture
The Taíno Movement: An Affirmation of Culture
"It's time to affirm our culture."
Roberto Múcaro Borrero
United Confederation of Taíno People
All I could think of when I met the President of the
United Confederation of Taíno People was – is he
for real? According to everything I have been
taught – he doesn’t exist. Everyone knows that
Christopher Columbus did not discover a thing. Yet
we still want to hold on to the other part of the fable.
We still want to believe that the friendly Indians were
wiped out. Gone. Forever. Yet here he is -
"Modern-Day Chief of the Taíno nation", officially the
President of the Confederation of Taíno People,
The first thing I had to ask was, “Are you for real or
an apparition? You’re not supposed to exist!” He
laughed and said, “Yes. I’m real. You can pinch
I told him that according to a well respected PhD. in
the Dominican Republic, the Taínos not only did not
die and still exist, but that they are the Dominicans
themselves (and the Caribbean people) but they
were just all lead to believe that they are not.
He gives me her name, “Dr. Guitar. I’m afraid that
may be a bit of an exaggeration, perhaps. I do not
espouse that theory. Our goal is simply to
investigate how many of us there are out there with
our Tribal Registration Project.”
I tell him, “I just interviewed an 80 year old woman
from Puerto Rico, Señora Gramita who can recite
specific facts on Columbus - the names of all three
of his ships, several songs she learned as a little
girl - but when I asked who was there when
Columbus got there, she thought about it before
she said ‘los indios’. I asked her ‘where are they
now?’ and she said she had no idea."
He nods, “There are many 80 year olds from
Puerto Rico that will go on for hours about their
Taíno ancestry or their Taíno relatives. But,
unfortunately, the majority is probably more like
her. That is a perfect example of the colonization of
our people, and the ineffectiveness of the
He explains that the Taíno struggle is about
educating everyone about the fallacies in history.
He offers an example, “In the late 1500’s the King
and Queen of Spain made a law that said Spain
was not allowed to enslave Taínos. When the
Bishop read the new law in the town square of San
Juan, it is said that ‘there were only 50 Taínos
there’. ‘There’ meaning ‘there in the town square’.
But it is understood as ‘there in the whole island of
Puerto Rico’. It is a prime example of the
manipulation of history.”
I ask him about the DNA testing that proves that the
people of Puerto Rico are still much more Taíno
than anyone would have even dared to predict. He
says, “I wouldn’t say that everyone needs to go
and get a DNA test. But those tests do prove what
our oral histories, that have been passed down
through the generations, have been saying all
I am taken in by the severity of his tone as he explains
that, “There is one thing also that we care a lot about.
We want to assert our rights to care for our artifacts.
We don’t agree with the common practice of the display
of our ancestors’ bones. If it is right to display bones
then display the bones of Ponce de León right up there
too and other Spaniards or other people. Why is it our
bones? If every Puerto Rican is proud of all three
races, then they should be infuriated. Those bones
could be your Great Great Grandparents’.”
His words cut right to my heart. I had never thought of it
that way. It really is common practice. Those bones
are like dinosaur bones – prehistoric, a relic from the
He went on to talk about Columbus Day in the same
powerful, enlightening words not too often heard, but
truer than the light of day.
“Why is Columbus Day a federally recognized
holiday? My tax money is going to celebrate a man
who was the 1st trade slave master and who was
responsible for the death of thousands of people? Who
never even set foot in the United States? When he got
there [Borinken, Quisqueya, or the Bahamas] nobody
was starving. There were no jails, no old age homes,
no diseases. Everyone was better off. WE were better
off. We are not a movement of people trying to go
backwards in time. No. It is an affirmation of culture.
Being able to speak out in a way our grandparents
were not able to. What our grandparents said is now
confirmed by DNA tests. It’s time to affirm our culture.”
I decided to show him La Diva Latina’s Taíno shirt to
see what he thought because I get many emails about
it. Some say that unless I am Taína, I shouldn’t be
selling the shirt. Or that in the Taíno language, the men,
women and children are all Taíno not “Taína”. Or that
Taíno is not a race. The race is: Native American.
I pull out the carefully folded t-shirt and his smile widens
on his face. “That is great! Where did you get it?”
I tell him, “I made it. It’s for you.” When I made the
shirt I never imagined that I would end up handing it
over to the President of the Confederation of Taíno
people, but there he was smiling a gentle smile.
Taíno means the good and noble people. Taínos are
said to be kind, giving, of a gentle nature. At least
something we learned about the Taínos are true.
Interview by La Diva Latina