Identity and Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the Challenge of Ethnicity

Identity and Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the Challenge of Ethnicity

Identity and Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the Challenge of Ethnicity

Identity and Power: Puerto Rican Politics and the Challenge of Ethnicity


Argues that the fragmentation and instability are more likely to occur only when the differences are ignored and nonethnic strategies are employed. This title illustrates this claim by focusing on one group of Puerto Ricans and how they mobilized to demand accountability from political leaders in Hartford, Connecticut.


Of the hundreds of newspaper articles I read while doing the research for this book, two stand out. the first, written in 1957, tells the story of Zoilo Caraballo, one of Hartford's earliest Puerto Rican residents. a photograph of a cheerful Caraballo coming home to his children illustrates the article. the headline encapsulates the profile: puerto ricans like life here, they're crowded but optimistic. the second, published in 1970, also chronicles difficulties and hope. Titled ethnic NEED: political muscle, it summed up what some felt was necessary to achieve progress. According to Alejandro La Luz, a community organizer, Puerto Ricans needed better leadership. Most important, they needed to develop their own groups to mobilize along ethnic lines.

These articles illustrate two key features of the Puerto Rican experience in Hartford: a long-standing mix of hardship and opportunity and the use of ethnicity to correlate ascriptive traits and status, to focus social capabilities, and to confront political reality. How Puerto Ricans used ethnicity to tackle adversity and exploit opportunities, to channel the energy created by the bonds of identity into the pursuit of political enfranchisement, is what this book is about.

The events recounted in this book intersect with aspects of my own experience in the United States. Like many early migrants to Hartford, I came from Puerto Rico not speaking much English and seeking opportunities that were unavailable to me on the island. I too moved to a Connecticut city and was challenged by my new circumstances. Once on the mainland, I realized I was an "ethnic," a discovery that baffled me. I was psychologically and culturally stricken upon arrival, but I adjusted quickly and looked forward to a new chapter in my life.

During my eighteen years in the United States, ethnicity has structured my experience in both positive and negative ways. Otherness has been my ticket to the mainstream of society. But it has been the source of much misunderstanding and conflict as well. Once, while visiting Milwaukee, a fellow called me "foreigner." I am a U.S. citizen by birth, but I am not blond and blue-eyed as he was. I cannot forget the old man who, alarmed at the sound of salsa coming from my apartment, angrily told me that "bongo music" was not welcome in "his" neighborhood because "this is Little Italy!" I kept playing my music but not as loudly as before. and then . . .

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