Academic journal article Centro Journal

Longing to Belong: Diaspora Students at the University of Puerto Rico

Academic journal article Centro Journal

Longing to Belong: Diaspora Students at the University of Puerto Rico

Article excerpt

Ese capítulo de la historia de Puerto Rico ha sido muy mal mirado. Hay esa noción de distanciarse de esos otros Puertorriqueños, que por alguna razón, qué locura cometieron para irse para alla. (That [diaspora] dimension of Puerto Rican history has been poorly understood. There is a notion of distancing from those other Puerto Ricans that, for some reason or other, what was that crazyness that they committed to leave for the [United] States?)

(Mariana Feliciano, university faculty/staff)1

I think there's always going to be connections to Puerto Rico because since I was born here, I wanted to reconnect to [Puerto Rico]. That's the reason why I came back to study, because I wanted to reconnect, because it's not the same visiting than living here. It's so different.

(Nadine Sanchez, university student)2

In the preceding quotations, both Nadine and Mariana spoke about diaspora processes; they spoke of departures and returns, of being a visitor or being at home, of a country's history with migration and of how that history is understood, interpreted, and studied. Puerto Rico was taken as a colony by the United States in 1898, and the Island's political and economic conditions continue to be intricately tied to its relationship with the United States. Its ongoing and unresolved status as a commonwealth of the United States facilitates a diaspora project that is marked by circular migration patterns between the United States and Puerto Rico and by an ongoing exchange of goods, services, policies, and cultural practices that influence the daily lives of Puerto Ricans in myriad ways. Duany's description of Puerto Rico as a "nation on the move" captures the dominant role that migration and diaspora processes play in constructing the Puerto Rican nation across varied geographic locales (Duany 2000, 2002). Large urban areas, such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago, served as early destination points for Puerto Rican migrants and continue to be sites with long-established Puerto Rican communities. However, the Puerto Rican population also experienced geographic dispersal over the last two to three decades; mid-size and smaller cities in states such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey are playing an increasingly important role in Puerto Rican migration and settlement patterns and Florida most recently gained a prominent role as a destination point for Puerto Ricans (Acosta-Belen & Santiago 2006; Marzan 2009). At the present time, population figures show that 58 percent of Puerto Ricans reside in the mainland U.S., and that 42 percent reside in the Island (Meléndez and Vargas-Ramos 2013).

Diaspora movements and processes thus play a powerful role in shaping Puerto Rican experiences. Yet, as Mariana explained in the quotation above, the diaspora dimension of Puerto Rican history is poorly studied and understood. In the arena of education, students like Nadine, who returned to Puerto Rico for university studies, are continually impacted by ongoing diaspora processes as they negotiate their identities in both United States and Puerto Rican schools, receive instruction in Spanish and English, and are educated on the ways they belong (or do not belong) as citizens within and between these two countries.

Despite the significant ways that diaspora processes influence the educational experiences of Puerto Rican youth, there is scant scholarship that explores the complex ways that diaspora is articulated, considered or understood in educational sites and the ways diaspora processes influence conceptions of citizenship belonging for Puerto Rican students. Castles (2004) argues that educational sites need to be included in debates on the changing nature of citizenship because they play a major role in the social and political identity formation of youth. In the case of Puerto Rico, colonization and diaspora processes raise important questions about the meanings of citizenship: Who is included in the Puerto Rican citizenry and how do migration and place(s) of residency impact questions of inclusion or belonging? …

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