The effect of colonialism on a colonized people can often result in a situation better known to us in today's time as an "identity crisis."" Studying the history of Puerto Rico under Spanish rule helps us to identify the problems found within the modern notions of Puerto Rican identity. Such notions of national identity start from the belief that Puerto Rico is a "self-defined community of people who share a sense of solidarity based on a belief in a common heritage and who claim political rights that may include self-determination". However, such modern notions of solidarity contradict the fact that by 1898 Puerto Rican society was characterized by great racial and class differences. As claimed by José Luis Gonzalez in his Puerto Rico: The Four Storeyed Country, these differences made "Puerto Rico a country so divided racially, socially, economically, and culturally that it should be described as two countries rather than one". The rise and fall of the international sugar market, and the rise of the coffee market in the Puerto Rican economy, helped to create the "foreign elements" within Puerto Rico that make modern views of Puerto Rican identity extremely problematic. .
The study and use of history has played an important role in helping to construct the concept of Puerto Rican national heritage. Francisco Scarano, in his Sugar and Slavery in Puerto Rico, 1815-1949: An Overview, asserts that notions of Puerto Rican national heritage have been portrayed as being an "anomalous case" within the Americas. He writes that many historians have claimed that Puerto Rico had an "economy and society which developed an advanced sugar industry during times of fairly open Atlantic slave trade, yet did not rely to any significant degree on the labor of African slaves". This suggests that the racial "heritage" of Puerto Ricans is not predominately black, and cause of that other races must have attributed to this as well.