Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Following Their Footsteps: Tracing Puerto Ricans' Sociopolitical Activism in New York City from an Afro-Centric Perspective

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Following Their Footsteps: Tracing Puerto Ricans' Sociopolitical Activism in New York City from an Afro-Centric Perspective

Article excerpt

Introduction

In early December of 2010, I attended a town-hall style meeting at City College-CUNY, where a group consisting of academics, politicians, and grassroots leaders, among others, responded to the call of creating a task force to address issues of the African Diaspora. This group reports to the African Union (AU). Known as the African Union Diaspora Task Team, it outlined its specific objectives to include the appointment of an Afro-Latino representative, who is a black Puerto Rican woman. This group proposes that despite the challenges confronting Africana and African Diaspora Studies departments/programs in the United States higher education system, these departments should remain in dialogue with institutions promoting a better Africa. As stated by the AU ambassador to the United States, "the African diaspora is an important component in the building of the African Union" (AU press release 11/1/2010). For this purpose, a better understanding of Africa's dispersed children must be documented, and the mechanism for accomplishing this task should be focused on renovating and reinforcing those "ties that bind" them to the motherland. The mother-child relationship is not simply a way of describing those who migrated or their descendants; instead, it must be a repatriation mechanism that many people follow as they try to recover what was left behind. When individuals rescue a relationship with their roots, we call it rediscovering one's "heritage." If it is a "country" that seeks to close such a historical gap, we can call it "home welcoming."

When the first generation of Puerto Ricans reached New York City (NYC) in the late 19th century, they found themselves in the midst of a biracial discourse. They found that New York was unlike Puerto Rico. They had no choice but to articulate race within their historical and cultural background and to denounce racism in many instances, including during the interwar period and the era of the Civil Rights movement. I use their example to examine aspects of Africana and African Diaspora Studies. However, first of all, as a historian I revisit the life of Arturo Schomburg and review his perspective on the central role of Africa and its descendants in the history of the world giving voice to Afro-descendants' quest to preserve their culture wherever they are located. Second, against this review, I trace the emergence of a cultural nationalist identity among the black Puerto Ricans of New York, specifically as that articulates with an Afro-centric identity or black consciousness, in accordance with the conceptualization of history propounded by C. Tsehloane Keto (1989). In so doing, I follow the steps of those Puerto Ricans who arrived to NYC. Although they were confronted with issues of adaptation, racism, and persistent poverty, they embraced the city and forged an Afro-centric identity,1 which became the driving force behind their sociopolitical activism.

Colonialism and Migration: The Making of the Puerto Rican Diaspora

The island of Puerto Rico was a Spanish colony from the early 1500s until 1898. The colonial situation of the island took a decisive turn when as a consequence of the Spanish American War (1898) the United States turned Cuba into a protectorate and made Puerto Rico a "colonial" possession. The presence of the United States impacted upon the island's politics, economy and society. The island and its people became subjects of the U.S. Congress, and in 1917 American citizenship was granted to the islanders. Puerto Rico became a model for the new sugar plantation economy that American companies were establishing in the Caribbean. This new economy affected the demand for labor and employment. By the time of the Great Depression of 1929, the Puerto Rican economy, which mainly depended on agricultural production, was suffering badly. The previous year hurricane San Felipe II had destroyed the crops. This economic crisis triggered an increase in the island's unemployment rate and a massive migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.