Category Archives: Bonilla Family of Yauco

Decolonizing My Family Tree: Revisting Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo

This blogpost is dedicated to my father, Antonio Vega Noboa, who never knew much about his Taino ancestry or his Bonilla family and to my cousin Maddy and my Bonilla Quiles family who still live in Yauco. Our extended family has never left Yauco,  the land of The Taino. We continue to honor our Indigenous ancestor, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, who will always be our Puerto Rican Patriot.


Maddy and Me

This blogpost is a corrective update to my two prior blogposts on Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo (see Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo: Our Puerto Rican Patriot . 

The Bonilla Family of Yauco & Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo

When I first met Maddy in 2014,  she told me the oral history of her 2nd great-grandfather, Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo. She received an oral history passed down by her mother and relayed that to me during our first conversation. After a 10+ year search to find the maternal surname of my 2nd great-grandfather, I was overjoyed to have been linked with a 3rd cousin who had his maternal surname on her tree and who AncestryDNA linked as having the same 2nd great-grandfather. As a newbie to Puerto Rican genealogy and to genetic genealogy, I wrongly assumed that Maddy and I shared the same 2nd great-grandfather and that the info that our other Bonilla DNA cousins from Yauco had on their trees was correct. I added their info to my tree which stated that Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s father was Marcos Bonilla Bonilla who was born in Coamo, Puerto Rico. The link to Marcus Bonilla Bonilla was incorrect. Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo is no doubt part of our own Bonilla Family of Yauco, but has no direct link to the Bonilla Family of Coamo as of today.  As someone who teaches genealogy and basic genetic genealogy classes,  I have no problem admitting that I made a couple of common genealogy mistakes almost 5 years ago. What can I say? I am human. It is a lesson others can learn from when researching their own family trees. As it now stands, everything has been corrected on my family tree and has been shared with Maddy and her family. I have also removed the section of my first Juan Eusebio blogpost to delete all references to Coamo.

I want to make it clear that this blogpost only corrects my relationship status  to Juan Eusebio which is that of a cousin. He is not my 2nd great-grandfather, but he IS Maddy’s 2nd great-grandfather and we both have  indisputable genetic ties to him. DNA does not lie. #FactsMatter

This is the oral history that my cousin Maddy relayed to me back in 2014:

When I was a little girl my mom (Hilda Quiles Oliveras) told my siblings and me the story of our 2x grandfather’s legend, of his torture, and murder, and how the people from Yauco PR , who lived near the cemetery, could hear my mom’s great granddad moan “Ayudame (Help me).” Some people in town would also say that they saw a man hanging from a tree. That story would scared me. I was about 11 years old. As I grew older I asked my mom if the story was a tale that she would tell to scare us! My mom said “No, my great granddad was murdered, stabbed, and they cut his genitals and stuffed it in his mouth.

Before I started my family tree in 2001, I asked my mom about the story. I thought it was a story told to children on a Halloween night so I asked my mom again if the story she told us was true and she said, “Yes it really happened.  It was true!” I asked my mom for more details. My mom had a stroke in 1997  and it was difficult for her to speak, but her memory was intact and she was able to tell the story as it happened to her great grandfather back then.

My mom passed away in 2013. May she rest in peace. My curiosity as to what happened to my 2nd great grandfather became an obsession. I called my maternal aunt Lucy Quiles Amil in Yauco and she gave me more details of our abuelo. My aunt Lucy told me to Google La Leyenda de la Guasima!  I did a Google search and also found a reference on of the legend…

As someone who only had my paternal grandparents’ names on my family tree until 2013, when another DNA cousin, Luis Rivera,  fleshed out the paternal side of my tree (See On Discovering My Boricua Branches), finding my DNA cousins was a blessing. That I could find a 3rd cousin who lived close to me, and who was related to me on my Bonilla line, immediately bonded us. Maddy’s oral history rang true.  The story seemed like it would be something that people would pass down. It was unforgettable and haunting. The physical violence that our ancestor was subjected to was clearly a message aimed at silencing people in his community—many of whom were of Taino and African descent.

After speaking with Maddy and googling Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s name, I came across the book Asesinato Politico. The book, published 50 years earlier, was in the collection of the New York Public Library and I went there the very next day to read it. It confirmed our Bonilla Quiles oral history and added even more heartbreaking details. This book is the closest thing we have to a first person account as it was written by the son of his best friend.


A little over a year later after I wrote my first blogpost, I went to Puerto Rico and filmed an AncestryDNA commercial that was aimed at telling the story of DNA cousins who met via an AncestryDNA test. Before I went, I reached out to yet another Puerto Rican DNA cousin, Luis Ramos, a well-known Taino and Indigenous advocate in New York City and Puerto Rico, to advise me on how to perform a libation ceremony for our ancestor, Juan Eusebio Bonilla  Salcedo. I  performed the ceremony side by side with my Bonilla Quiles cousins and two other cousins, Ralph and Theresa Delgado-Tossas. We honored our Puerto Rican Patriot and let him know that we would keep saying his name and tell the world about him. That was and is our moral imperative as his descendants and kin.

Descendants and kin of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo, 2016, Yauco, Puerto Rico

On Resurrecting Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo after 125 years…

The genealogy research I do is all about telling the stories of ancestors who have been erased from the historical record and from public memory. I do not only engage in “begat begat genealogy” where names are gathered on a tree which are divorced from historical context beyond a date. I “dig deep” to resurrect the lives of my ancestors and to tell their true stories within their own local historical context. When I read about Juan Eusebio’s torture and assassination, I cried and still do. While I was very familiar with the treatment of Indigenous people worldwide, it never occurred to me that this would have happened to someone related to me in the not too distant past. I still struggle with this horrific event.  Processing historic trauma is never easy. Self-care for genealogists is indeed a MUST.

We have a fundamental belief that there is no separation between our ancestors who transitioned before us and those of us who are still here on Earth. It seemed as though Juan Eusebio was begging us to  resurrect his life story, to tell the truth about who he was and what he stood for,  along with asking us to remind others of how the Taino people continued to resist centuries after colonization. Resurrecting Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo from the pages of Asesinato Politico , and from historic oblivion was our way, as descendants and kin, of paying homage to him. No one else can make that claim as we brought him back to life, figuratively speaking. #FactsMatter  #CiteBlackWomen #CitePuertoRicanWomen 

Ain’t Too Proud to Beg: Ellen Fernandez-Sacco to The Rescue

For this blogpost —- a first for me —- I asked my cousin-homie-friend, Ellen Fernandez-Sacco,  to help me understand why it has been so hard for me to locate my exact relationship to Juan Eusebio. I am no expert in Puerto Rican genealogy and never claimed to be. There are multiple layers of first-cousin and uncle-niece marriage in my Bonilla line over centuries with not just my direct Bonilla family line, but with all the associated families who married into it (e.g., The Vega, Rodriguez, Figueroa, and Velez families). Because of this, I reached out to Ellen for some clarity and for her to elucidate some of the issues I have to deal with that have impacted my ability to pinpoint how I am related to Juan Eusebio. What is important to remember is that Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s surnames are those that pop up on my tree AND with my DNA cousins over and over again. In addition, there are numerous Bonilla families in Susua Alta, and surrounding barrios and Sabana Grande, that are clearly collateral relatives of my ancestors. The Bonillas of Yauco include the following surnames: Bonilla Bonilla, Bonilla Figueroa, Bonilla Limardo, Bonilla Lopez, Bonilla Martinez, Bonilla Morales, Bonilla Quiles, Bonilla Rivera, Bonilla Rodriguez, Bonilla Salcedo, Bonilla Sanchez, Bonilla Torres, Bonilla Vega, Bonilla Velez, and Bonilla Zambrana. Please note that future blogposts will be forthcoming that will show the interrelatedness of all these Yauco Bonilla families.

Ellen has gifted me with her knowledge of Puerto Rican genealogy and Puerto Rico in general. Her own work dovetails with mine. We are both concerned with researching ancestral family histories’ that have been suppressed, silenced, and/or erased and the issue of how resistance is manifested by those who may be considered to be powerless. As women genealogists of color, we are also  conscious of how our own  identities have emerged as a result of our ancestors being survivors of the triple horrors of genocide, colonization, and slavery. Though both of us descend from European colonizers, slaveholders, and immigrants, we have chosen to focus more on our African and Indigenous ancestors, the ones whose histories remain largely unknown. That being said, Ellen truly has a unique voice of her own that incorporates on many levels the consciousness of diverse groups of people considered to be “forgotten by history.”

Dr. Ellen Fernandez-Sacco

Ellen has almost 20 years of genealogy research experience behind her. She has her own blog, Latino Genealogy and Beyond. She has also published articles on Puerto Rican genealogy in Hereditas, journal of the Sociedad Puertorriquena de Genealogia, and this year, has a two part article in the California Genealogical Society’s The Nugget, first published in The Baobab Tree: Journal of the  African American Genealogical Society of Northern California (AAGSNC); previously on the California Genealogical Society blog. She has a book chapter on the history of Mundillo in the collection Women and Needlework, thanks to a Senior Latino Smithsonian Fellowship. Her articles can also be found on Ellen is one of the panelists, along with myself, on BlackProGen LIVE, a YouTube genealogy channel dedicated to teaching others how to research their ancestors throughout the African Diaspora. Moreover, Ellen has served as  Past President, President, Vice President, and Board Member of the California Genealogical Society , is the founder and co-moderator of Sociedad Ancestros Mocanos on Yahoo! Groups and Facebook since June 2005, is an enrolled member of the United Confederation of Taino People, and belongs to the Yukayeke Guayniana. Finally, she is a graduate of ProGen 16 and ProGen Law (beta).

In her analysis of  The Bonilla Family of Yauco, Ellen will discuss the various issues inherent in Puerto Rican genealogy among which include the issues of who is included and excluded in historical records, women & war, the classification of the Taino people within the  “Pardo libre” racial/ethnic category,  levels of endogamy in small, rural communities, the political economic context of Yauco in the 18th and 19th century, and other topics as well. Ellen also has a way of succinctly pointing out the things that make Puerto Rican and African and Indigenous genealogy research difficult.  I am happy that she embraced the task at hand 1000% as you will see. 

So, thank you, prima Ellen, for being you and for showing a keen interest in documenting the lives of my Bonilla Family of Yauco, and especially, of our own Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo!


A Bonilla Family Tree: Context, Resistance & Reading Indigeneity

Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, Ph.D.

Simply searching for that linear connection to conquistadors or mainstream historical figures can sideline aspects of research.

If that’s the case, there’s so much you’re missing.  As a result of not looking, a lot gets left on the table. Why is genealogy and family history so important? Taken on a personal level, genealogy and historical study enables one to open that identification up, learn about the erasure of people from history, how privilege works and the importance of context. There is something to be said for the weight of context in doing this research.  I want to thank my prima Teresa Vega for the invitation to delve into the Boricua branches of her family history.

Yauco: Whose history?

Historical narratives of Yauco’s steady population growth often focus on the arrival of Europeans over time, largely from France, Italy and Corsica. While their material contribution is not to be denied, this lineage can cast a long shadow over different histories contained within the documentary record.  If one turns their attention to the legal disenfranchisement of Taino and African descendants whose labor they culled, another trajectory of development becomes visible.

Depending on which region of Boriken,  people were undercounted if counted at all, and over time, many escaped the pages of census or parish records creating their own means of privacy as protection. For instance, eighteenth century censuses were not comprehensive and covered only part of the population, leaving the mountainous regions where Native people lived without being subjected to the processes of colonization. The pressures were still there as towns expanded, but if you’ve ever taken the Ruta Panoramica across central Puerto Rico, there are plenty of places that people sought refuge across time.

Indigenous women survived in large numbers, absorbing the men into a culture shaped by matrilineal relationships. [1] The economic repercussions of a shift out of a military structure to the development of plantation economies and its ensuing monocultures of sugar, coffee and tobacco, also shifted the fortunes and conditions of various families.

While the law advertised the power of church and government as total, it was anything but. Higher ground had its advantages.

Barrio Susua Alta y Bajo lies outside of barrio pueblo in Yauco, alongside of Almacigo, and between the two, most family members are based in either of these barrios. As the borders of Sabana Grande (founded in 1817) lies so close, one can see an overlap in the number of families there in the early nineteenth century, possibly the same individuals that are in Susua Alta.

Barrio Susua, Yauco, in red. Google Maps, 2019. Note the elevation and location of the Barrio Pueblo that borders the end of Susua.

Further west and south is San German, the oldest point of European settlement on the western side of the island. Older histories tell the story of Spanish conquistadors encounters with Natives that conveniently soon die off. I’ll come back to this ‘paper genocide’ shortly.

The Reverberation of DNA Evidence: An ethnically diverse society

Some history books stutter over the reality that Arawakan and Carib peoples remained across a region known as ‘El Capital Taino’ The Taino Capital’. This is part of an areas comprised of ancestors with traditions, an identity hidden in plain sight since colonization began. In 2000, Dr. Martinez Cruzado found that 61% of the people he  tested had an Indigenous maternal haplogroup, a reflection of an older, deeper history of genocide. Many Taino males were murdered or sold into slavery, while women had consensual or coercive relationships with the Spanish who arrived on the island.

Map from Martinez-Cruzado, “Mitochondrial DNA Analysis in Puerto Rico”



Beneath Spanish surnames are present Indigenous people, many reduced to the disenfranchising status of a color.  A color simply denies political status, it is reductive and useful in a system that pits capital against the flesh in an endless attempt to conquer or humiliate an individual.[2] Where did the survivors go? The mountains. These are the regions least known and mapped until the military maps of the late 1880s.

War & Women

,What also needs to come to the table is the treatment of women of color within a system of encomiendas and later slavery. Many remained in a service economy post-slavery. While mapping this may be too theoretical for some,  but in Antonia I Castaneda “Sexual Violence in the Politics of Conquest”, she writes, “Under conditions of war or conquest, rape is a form of natural terrorism, subjugation and humiliation, wherein the sexual violation of women represents both the physical domination of women and the symbolic castration of the men of the conquered group.” As women become the symbolic capital of men, rape becomes a “legitimate form of expression of superiority that comes with it no civil penalties” This is a property inheritance system whereby the ownership of property gives legitimacy and can be inherited. It’s backed up by sociopolitical reasons: religion, conquest, slavery, race, class. [3] This process continues into the present.

So we do need to weigh the idea of patriarchal concepts that are at work, embedded in narratives about the past, even those presented in documents. Who do we see in the records?[ How are women described? How are households comprised? What does mtDNA tell us about the past?] Thus, when we read for context, these elements can factor in different proportions depending upon time period or the person or institution presenting the information. The hunter does not tell the lion’s story.

So we do need to weigh the idea of patriarchal concepts that are at work, embedded in narratives about the past, even those presented in documents. Who do we see in the records? How are women described or what is the mtDNA informing us about the past?  Thus, when we read for context, these elements can factor in different proportions depending upon time period or the person or institution presenting the information. The hunter does not tell the lion’s story.

“Pardos libres”

There is often surprise at the realization that pardo literally means brown. The point of color is to compress and deny the complexity of identity, and thereby deny claims to sovereignty or political status. ‘Indio’’Jibaro’ are terms that acknowledge the indigenous presence yet, paper genocide renames them to a generic population. In 1808, Governor Toribio Montes instituted the census category eliminated ‘Indio’ and substituted ‘Pardo’ instead.

The census category of Indios, as Castanha points out, came at the expense of a Puerto Rican national consciousness.[4] The racial identification of Bonillas over time range from mestizo, pardo, mulato, blanco, terms that speak more to power than ancestry, and via the legal process of blanqueamiento literally shifts to white by purchase in the early nineteenth century. Yes, you could buy your white status and that was very handy for marriages into families of higher social status.

By the twentieth century, the categories reflect admixture and many in the census are listed as blancos. A similar process occurs in the US, where the context of admixed populations occupies different terminology depending on location, space, time period.

In 1776, the census by Fray Inigo Abbad included Blancos, sus Mujeres, Hijos, HIjas; Pardos libres; Negros, sus mujeres.

Nearly a century later, the numbers of POC in Puerto Rico are much higher than Cuba; note that the number of Indigenous, Afro-Indigenous and African people is almost equal to that

of those deemed white in this caste system in Puerto Rico.

Tracing Male Bonillas in the Early Nineteenth Century

The 1817 Lista de Milicias Urbanas has several Bonillas listed— 56 of them in fact. The spreadsheet created by Walter Cardona Bonet and others for the SPG from the original census in the Archivo General de Puerto Rico. Their document, (available with membership!)  has an alphabetical index. Yauco is not part of the areas transcribed, however, there is the adjacent municipality of Sabana Grande.

43 listed had an identity listed: 24- Pardos, 19 Blancos, with a distribution of Bonillas as follows.  The majority of militia in Sabana Grande and Coamo in 1817 were Pardos. The years of birth for these men ranged between 1757 to 1792, as service was from ages 25 to 60.

10 Coamo – 8 Pardo; 2 Blanco

8 Anasco – not identified

8 Sabana Grande – 8 Pardo

8 Humacao – 8 Blanco

5 Rincon – not identified

4 Guaynabo-  4 Pardo

3 Gurabo – 3 Blanco

3 Juana Diaz – 3 Pardo

2 Caguas – 2 Blanco

1 Aguada – 1 Pardo

1 Hato Grande – 1 Blanco

1 Las Piedras – not identified

1 Maunabo – Blanco

1 Toa Alta –  – not identified

Clearly there is more going on than meets the eye in terms of potential identification and categories for these Bonilla men across the island. I’ve written briefly about why some people in past decades put a halt to their genealogical research– upon discovering that their ancestor wasn’t the European one, but the black or mulatto or mestizo person of the same name; of segregated parish books disappearing, of pages surreptitiously ripped out in fear of being discovered one had pardo, Indian, black or slave ancestry listed on their documents.  Things are changing, and people are owning their past.[5]  That is less likely to happen now.  Given the numbers above, we are looking at a lot of blended people, mostly identified as Indigenous or Afro-Indigenous with the surname Bonilla.

Market Day in Yauco

Yauco was one of Puerto Rico’s sugar exporting towns.

Violence and Family Histories

Through Black ProGen LIVE, we have worked on genealogies whose trees have been scarred by racial terror, the threat of erasure, lynching and attempts to disenfranchise different groups of POC, allies and others. As I came to learn, Puerto Rico is no different. I came to the story of Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo through my cousin, Teresa Vega almost five years ago, when she shared the publication Asesinato Politico. [6] Clearly Juan Eusebio Bonilla became a symbol of the movement the Spanish colonial government sought to crush.



To have a family member, an ancestor lynched requires time to absorb and to literally sit with the implications of a violence perpetrated by institutions that one expects help rather than harm.  The historical time period during which Juan Eusebio Salcedo lived came during a shift back to the monarchy in Spain, with two revolts, Grito de Lares in Puerto Rico and Grito de Yara in Cuba. There was a deterioration in living conditions reflected in increasing levels of mortality— for the general population and the birth rate.  There was a long process of gradual emancipation, in which people were sold up to the last moment possible in 1873, and the formerly enslaved were required to work three years for their former masters in exchange for freedom. [7] This was a population of color that could be found in every municipality, but in varying numbers.

The Path to Decolonizing Family Histories

Yauco had a series of uprisings since the fifteenth century. A map of rebellions by Hector Andres Negroni from his Historia Miitar de Puerto Rico shows clusters of related events occurred during the nineteenth century.  The late 1880s saw the both the establishment of the Partido Autonomista (Autonomist Party) and the arrival in March of General Romulado Palacio Gonzalez. A conservative aligned with the colonial center in Madrid, “identified, persecuted, pushiness, tortured and jailed dozens of autonomists,” [8]

1887 was known as “The Year of Terror” The General was removed from office by that November and returned to Spain.  “El Componte” imprinted many oral histories before the Spanish American War of 1898.


Map of Rebellions in PR showing extent of repression of El Componte and resistance to it in the central areas of the island and in Yauco. “Mapa de las rebellions.” Hector Andres Negroni, Historia Miliar de Puerto Rico


Jose Eusebio Salcedo’s Parents

Excerpt, Acta de Defunción, Jose Bonilla y Salcedo, 25 Oct 1885,

The death record for Juan Eusebio Salcedo’s brother, Jose Bonilla Salcedo holds a very different history in the description of his parents. “Era hijo legitimo de Marcos Bonllla y de  Rita Salcedo, naturales y domiciliados que fueron de este pueblo, labradores, difuntos.”   Jose Bonilla Salcedo died of anemia at the age of 33; Probably born in the 1820s, the birth of Jose was preceded by at least three others before 1852. Most outlived them.  Their parents, Marcos Bonilla Torres and Rita Salcedo Sanchez are described as agricultural laborers, which isn’t the same as agricultor proprietarios -agricultural  landowners as with theuan other Bonilla line.

Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo was a business owner, a comerciante, who dealt in coffee. He unlike many Bonillas was literate and able to sign his name. His resistance to processes of colonization has its basis in a longer suppressed history of Indigenous existence on the island.


Working Documents: Marcos & Hermenegilda

There’s a fundamental difference in practice among some family historians. There’s a bit of shoehorning happening with a certain Marcos Bonilla who appears in some trees tied to the Bonillas of Yauco. As a result, it doesn’t take much to disprove the presence of Marcos Bonilla in Coamo who a few assumed was the same Marcos Bonilla Torres of Yauco.

According to the 1888 death certificate, a 50 year old Marcos Bonilla in Coamo died of a wasting disease (caxequia paludica). Francisco Matos, a neighbor, reported Marcos’ vital details.  The secretary notes of Francisco ’sin segundo apellido’, an indicator of potential illegitimacy or class; its often found with POC as there are more single female heads of household. Born about 1838, the record states that Marcos was “hijo ilegitimo de Paula Bonilla natural de esta Villa, ya difunta”— the illegitimate son of Paula Bonilla, born in Coamo, deceased.” Next.

Hermenegilda Limardo Cintron

This Acta de Defunción for Hermenegildo Limardo Cintron is a hot mess. If someone did not already work other areas of the tree from the twentieth back to the early nineteenth century, a special surprise awaits.

Fortunately, I located the baptisms of several of her children, and was able to see who was listed as the father of the children along with her parents, all documents that predate this one by nearly two decades. There are no records listing these children as those of Juan Antonio or Juan Velez; neither are there two marriages with Hermenegilda Limardo Cintron.

This is the information given in the certificate above:

Dionicio Lopez Lugo natural y domicilado, casado, labrador, mayor de edad

primeras nupcias Juan Antonio Velez Agricultor proprietario

7 hijos, Juan, Damaso, Maria, Juana, Evaristo,

2ndas nupcias: Juan Velez, Agricultor proprietario, un hijo,  Juan

The declarante, Dionisio Lopez Lugo (1837-1892) was in his early 50s at the time, and died where he lived, in the adjoining barrio of Almacigo Bajo. He was married to Maria Bonilla, who remains to be identified at this time. Clearly he’s got some relationship to the Bonillas, but, does he have an agenda? As a legal document this is very problematic. Today, if someone tries to build a tree with this document, they will soon be nowhere.

I’ll address the baptismal information in the next section.  I’d like to give a shout out to Anaisa Bayala, for her index to the Iglesia Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Yauco on FamilySearch. Without the links, this is next to impossible to locate.

Close & Closer Still: Endogamy, Big Time. 

Looking at most of the family connections in Yauco lead back to several clusters of Bonillas there that have varying degrees of consanguinity and admixture. Given several close dispensations, and having outlined several trees based on series of civil and parish records, it quickly becomes evident several strategies are at work to keep networks of property and family in the same hands. There can be a high cost, as the records show.

For us today, the problem is a bit different when trying to determine relationships on the basis of DNA.   One hilarious example is using MyHeritage’s system of AutoClustering that intends to group ancestry on the basis of dna. Ideally a set of rectangles isolating each grouping cascades diagonally across the page. When I took the test, the result was distributed into a practically solid pink surface, a visual suggestion of the layers of endogamy embedded in my ancestry; Teresa’s was the same.  Here too, AutoClustering is of no help.

A Second Degree of Consanguinity: Why it matters

What tracing the Bonilla line provided was a similar experience of endogamy first hand, which I will demonstrate. There are several dispensations early on, which begin to collapse the Bonilla tree. Two of the marriages are extremely close, a segundo grado de consanguinidad (second degree of consanguinity). These layered relationships begin early, very early.

As I said earlier these are tools of economic survival, justified by the church and extension, the community.  This isn’t about avoiding color, its about cementing relationships during times of intensive material and social change.

There are also connections across both across two main clusters of Bonillas that I have determined occurring over two centuries. I’ve annotated two charts to make the relationships visible.

First, here is a partial translation of the 1875 petition for dispensation requested by Juan Ramon Bonilla Limardo and Josefa Bonilla Figueroa for a second degree of consanguinity:

In the town of Our Lady of the Rosary of Yauco Nuestra Señora del Rosario de Yauco on the 10 of August 1875, I the undersigned parish priest having explored their intention in respect to contrasting marriage between Juan Ramon Bonilla, legal son of Juan Ramon and Ermenegilda Bonilla, and of Josefa Bonilla legal daughter of Vicente and of Cecilia Figueroa, dispensation granted by the His Grace, the Bishop of this Diocesis Don Juan tu.P Puig, for the canonical impediment of second degree of consanguinity on equal transverse lines, examined by Christian doctrine and conceded the three canonical banns anticipated in the Council of Trent

Second degree here was the marriage of two first cousins, and basically Juan Ramon Bonilla and Vicente Bonilla Sanchez were brothers and their children married each other. While this level of endogamy is not seen today, there are a few among nineteenth century dispensations. Uncle – Niece marriage also happened and falls under second degree. That these children had the same grandparents and the same set of aunts and uncles, is what endogamy and pedigree collapse refers to.


Descendants of Pedro Bonilla + Bernabela Sanchez – Teresa’s 4th great-grandparents as she is a descendant of Juana Florentina Bonilla Bonilla: Note the relationships. ©2019 Ellen Fernandez-Sacco


Descendants of Joaquin Bonilla + Carmen Rodriguez: Another set of Segundo grado. Mostly likely ancestors of Teresa. ©2019 Ellen Fernandez-Sacco

Juan Eusebio Bonilla Sanchez: Tying the Trees Together

Further research to continue but looking at the clusters of family, there will be more endogamy to connect the Bonillas together across time.  The goal here is to bring visibility to POC within the local history, and the costs of that identification during a moment of political repression 125 years ago. This holds meaning for us as Taino today.


Ultimately, people will grapple with this situation, and see the need for deeper historical  context paired with documentation and DNA results. Taken all together: “Finally, we show that the Native American components in some present-day Caribbean genomes are closely related to the ancient Taino, demonstrating an element of continuity between precontact populations and present-day Latino populations in the Caribbean.”[9]

The Bonillas of Yauco are also part of this larger historical context. Juan Eusebio Bonilla Salcedo’s revitalization is  important as is remembering his death and understanding our origins.


[1] Tony Castanha, The Myth of Indigenous Caribbean Extinction: Continuity and Reclamation in Boriken (Puerto Rico). Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

[2] Castanha,

[3]  Antonia I Castaneda “Sexual Violence in the Politics of Conquest: Amerindian Women and the Conquest of Alta California. ” Building with Our Hands: New Directions in Chicana Studies. Anita de la Torre & Beatriz M. Pesquera. Berkeley UC Press, 1993, 15-33; 26.

[4] Castanha, 90. “In other words, the creation of a Puerto Rican awareness came at the expense of the Indian or Jibaro. This form of ethnocide negated or instantly wiped out the Indian presence from the record books, and since the category of “pardos libres’, which we now know pertains to Indigenous people, has not been interpreted this way in history, the job was complete. As with indigenous groups historically, this negation assumes a national consciousness to be superior to, and thus takes precedence over all things indigenous, particularly one’s identity…” Also see Loida Figueroa Mercado’s observations: “Note: Please note that there was a majority of non-whites. In 1771, 38,259 comparted to 31,951, and in 1778 56,295 compated to 46,756. Please note, moreover, that crossbreeds are not specified (native with White) or other mixtures, under the term free coloured peoples. If we compare this census with O’Reilly’s made in 1765 we see an increase in the number of slaves from 7,592 in 1771 and 11,560 in 1778, compared to 5,037 slaves in 1765.

If we take all this data into account it is evident that the time has come to throw overboard the fallacy of the extermination of the native population. Of course there were grounds for the creation of this fallacy and for the subsequent transmission to future generations, as the documents of the first half of the century repeat that the “native Indians” had been eliminated.” [emphasis added]

[5] Ellen Fernandez-Sacco, Speaking to the Historical Present.Dealing with Genealogy.

[6] E Guiterrez Velez, Asesinato Politico. 1965

[7] Fernando Pico, History of Puerto Rico, Princeton: Marcus Weiner Publishers, 2006, 199-202. Also key is Pico’s observation on p 198

Racial divisions have a serious effect on the development of national identities. This is a problem Puerto Rico shares with the rest of Spanish America, where there have been similar examples of prejudice against the indigenous peoples. But the desperate attempt to gain the approval of the leading cultural institutions in the metropolis led many Puerto Ricans to turn back on their Caribbean reality, to assume exaggerated Hispanophile poses. For a long time our culture defined itself as Spanish.”

[8] Jose Mari Mut, “El componte y la puerta” Foto e historia. Ediciones Digitales

Palacios ordered the manufacture of the windows and doors of the church in Santa Isabel, which are still there today. ; also see Romulado Palacio Gonzalez, Wikipedia,

[9] Hannes Schroeder, Martin Sikora, Shyam Gopalakrishnan, Lara M. Cassidy, Pierpaolo Maisano Delser, Marcela Sandoval Velasco, Joshua G. Schraiber, Simon Rasmussen, Julian R. Homburger, María C. Ávila-Arcos, Morten E. Allentoft, J. Víctor Moreno-Mayar, Gabriel Renaud, Alberto Gómez-Carballa, Jason E. Laffoon, Rachel J. A. Hopkins, Thomas F. G. Higham, Robert S. Carr, William C. Schaffer, Jane S. Day, Menno Hoogland, Antonio Salas, Carlos D. Bustamante, Rasmus Nielsen, Daniel G. Bradley, Corinne L. Hofman, and Eske Willerslev, “Origins and genetic legacies of the Caribbean Taino.” PNAS March 6, 2018 115 (10) 2341-2346; first published February 20, 2018

Hector Andres Negroni, Historia de Yauco. Gob. Municipal de Yauco, 2006.

Hector Andres Negroni, Historia Militar de Puerto Rico: En conmemoración de dos mundos. San Juan, P.R. : Comisión Puertorriqueña para la Celebración del Quinto Centenario del Descubrimiento de América y Puerto Rico 1992. 

Loida Figueroa Mercado, History of Puerto Rico: From the Beginning to 1892.

Guillermo A. Baralt, Yauco: Notas Para Su Historia. San Juan, 1986.

Luis R. Negron Hernandez, Sabana Grande:  Notas Para Su Historia. San Juan,1986.