Cultural Influence and Change at a Global Scale

Although, both Illinois and Puerto Rico are part of the U.S., they have very different pasts that were shaped by various groups of people. They wouldn’t be the places they are today without centuries of multinational influence.

The first Europeans to discover Illinois were the renowned French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet. The mighty Mississippi River was their primary method of transportation. After the French and Indian War, the territory was ceded to Great Britain. However, following the American Revolution, the U.S. took possession. Although Illinois was incorporated into the U.S. in 1818, slavery still existed in the southern part of the state. This slave labor ignited Illinois’s agricultural industry that dominated for the rest of the 19th century and early 20th century. In addition to agriculture, trade also dominated Illinois’ economy. The Chicago River linked Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, which was linked to the Mississippi River. Moreover, lake Michigan was connected to Erie canal which eventually reached the Atlantic Ocean. These systems of canals and rivers greatly enhanced trade in Illinois and led to a boom in industries such as coal and oil. Cities grew starting in the south and moving up north to Chicago. Chicago eventually became the state’s largest city. The Great Migration brought many African Americans to Chicago to work in its coal, oil, and meatpacking factories. As the 20th century progressed, the state’s economy underwent a transition from agriculture-based to industry-based. Today, Illinois continues to suffer from severe debt, a lack of natural areas, and high crime rates (predominately in Chicago). Despite these flaws, Chicago is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s most eco-friendly cities.

Puerto Rico has had a dramatically different history. The island was originally home to the agriculture-dependent Taino Indians. Europeans first landed on the island in 1493 during Columbus’s second voyage. It was originally named San Juan Bautista in honor of St. John the Baptist. Eventually, the island was renamed Puerto Rico, but the major port city on the north coast retained the name of “San Juan”. Although Puerto Rico became a colony of Spain, the Spanish were more interested in profiting from other Caribbean islands such as Cuba and Guadeloupe. Spain’s colonization of Puerto Rico brought many infectious diseases to the Taino people. Because of these foreign diseases, many of the natives perished. To replace the indigenous people, Spain brought in African slaves to work the sugar plantations. Driven by the philosophy of mercantilism, Spain was now able to produce goods in Puerto Rico (and other Caribbean islands) and ship them back to the motherland. However, this process was not easy because other world powers (such as the Dutch, English, and Americans) became threats to Spain’s Caribbean colonies. The Dutch very nearly conquered Puerto Rico during the Battle of San Juan in 1625. Now feeling threatened, Spain quickly modified its fort system to be able to protect the strategically-located port city from future attacks. As time progressed, independence movements started to rise throughout Puerto Rico. To mitigate this problem, Spain started to encourage immigration to the island from other European countries. Nonetheless, tensions grew and riots erupted. In the mid-late 19th century a series of activists such as Ramon Ementerio Betances and Segundo Ruiz Belvis advocated for independence from the crown. In 1898, the United States defeated Spain in the Spanish-American War. Thus, Puerto Rico as well as Guam, the Philippines, and Cuba were given to the United States. Throughout the 20th century Puerto Ricans gradually obtained the rights of U.S. citizens. Despite having its own governor and constitution, Puerto Rico is still denied an electoral vote for the U.S. presidential election. Over half of its citizens are unsatisfied with its status as an unincorporated U.S. territory. As far as industry goes, Puerto Rico (much like Illinois) has transitioned from agriculture to industry/tourism.

Both Puerto Rico and Illinois are constantly progressing, but there is still room for improvement. Chicago undoubtedly struggles with crime. The source of this issue goes back to the city’s roots as a popular destination for African-Americans during the Great Migration. Chicago was home to many jobs in the railroad industry, factories, food processing plants and many other businesses. Due to a lack of education and intense segregation that existed in many parts of the city, African-American workers were paid very poor wages. This led to an increase in poverty and crime that still exists today. The same can be said about San Juan – the capital of Puerto Rico. The crime rates of San Juan are significantly higher than those of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In addition to a lack of education, civil unrest also fuels Puerto Rico’s crime rates. As aforementioned, many Puerto Ricans are angry about their political status and limited rights. Both places also struggle environmentally. Illinois suffers from a lack of natural areas. Although parks and forests do exist, most of the state’s land has been converted to farmland and cities. These are important for boosting the economy, but our planet needs trees because they act as carbon sinks and help regulate Earth’s climate. Furthermore, natural areas are aesthetically pleasing and can increase both physical and emotional well-being.

I will admit that these problems will not be easy to solve. They will involve a lot of compromise as well as collaboration. It all starts with education. If we educate our community, people could get better jobs, earn more money, and decrease their need for crime. Moreover, people need to start getting involved in clubs and organizations that promote the cooperation that is necessary to make change at a global scale. Also, if we educate our society about the importance of preserving nature and keeping our environment clean, we will be able to create a society in which future generations can live happy, healthy lives. Unfortunately, un inevitable result of activism is opposition. Many people will fight against change, especially in regards to the environment. This is because many businesses rely on activities that degrade the environment. For example, the oil industry benefits many countries economically. However, oil is a major contributor to global climate change. If more people are aware of the detrimental effects of oil and other fossil fuels, enough public support might be gained to transition to clean, renewable energy sources.