Cocolo is a term used in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean to refer to non-Hispanic African descendants, or darker skin people in general. The term originated in the Dominican Republic, and was historically used to refer to the Anglophone and Francophone Caribbean descendants. Namely the Cocolos of San Pedro de Macorís, Puerto Plata, the Samaná Peninsula, and other Afro-descendants who lived in coastal areas and where culturally distinct from the lighter Dominicans who primarily lived in the interior of the country.
The usage, outside the specific ethnicity of the Cocolos of San Pedro de Macorís, is vague, and at times the word can mean all blacks or all the poor of any race living in less developed coastal areas. It can also be used to refer to those who identify with the Afro-Latino culture and music, such as Palos, salsa and other Spanish Afro-Caribbean musical genres. The term is often used with pride to refer to oneself, yet can be taken as an insult when others use it.
The immigration of Cocolos began with the rise and development of the sugar industry in the Dominican Republic, although immigrants are preferably placed in coastal communities with active ports (Sánchez, Samaná, Monte Cristi, Puerto Plata). The main Dominican ports were in the "North Band" so that a large majority of these immigrants came from the Bahamas and the Turks, especially in Puerto Plata, due to proximity. Many also came from Saint Kitts and Nevis, Dominica, Antigua, Anguilla, St. Vincent, Montserrat, Tortola, St. Croix, St. Thomas, Martinique, and Guadeloupe.
The first immigrants of the Turks began arriving in Puerto Plata after the Dominican War of Restoration, long before the modern sugar industry was established. There were carpenters, blacksmiths and schoolteachers who emigrated due to the economic crisis in the Bahamas and Turks and Caicos. Many also came as stevedores boats line Clyde Steamship Company, which dominated trade for many years. When the railroad of Puerto Plata-Santiago was built in the late 19th century, many came from these islands to work on the railroad as well as others from Saint Thomas, which was then a Danish colony, they also settled in large numbers in Puerto Plata.
Since the Dominican Republic was a predominantly Hispanic Roman Catholic nation, the Cocolos thus needed to establish their own religious, social, and community centers. These were of various sects and were mainly founded in La Romana, Puerto Plata and San Pedro de Macorís.
Protestant denominations that were introduced by Cocolos include the Anglican Church, established in 1897 in San Pedro de Macorís, and now known as the Dominican Episcopal Church; Apostolic Faith, which began operations in 1930; the Moravian Church (now Evangelical Dominican Church) established in 1907 in San Pedro de Macorís; and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which began their services in San Pedro de Macoris.
West Indian immigrants and their descendants also introduced some sports of British origin, namely cricket and boxing. In order to cultivate a following, the Cocolos created various sports groups in San Pedro de Macorís. Over time the descendants of those West Indian immigrants began to abandon the practice of cricket and took up sports like baseball and basketball instead.
This word migrated to Puerto Rico where it was used by some to refer to dark-skinned Dominicans, Haitians, and other visibly African influenced people in general. In 1937, however, it only meant Black in Puerto Rico. Later, the term "cocolo" would become a slang term describing the subculture which followed Afro-Latino music, especially salsa as opposed to rock music (those were called "rockeros"). In the Puerto Rico of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the rivalry between "cocolos" and "rockeros" was similar to the rivalry between the Mods and the Rockers in 1960s England.