Academic journal article Centro Journal

"Let Me Go Check out Florida": Rethinking Puerto Rican Diaspora

Academic journal article Centro Journal

"Let Me Go Check out Florida": Rethinking Puerto Rican Diaspora

Article excerpt

Traditional theories of immigration, such as assimilation and rational choice, do not satisfactorily explain the geographical moves made, and migration outcomes experienced, by Puerto Ricans in the last 30 years. Although contemporary Puerto Rican migration patterns and experiences can be understood in part through these theories, they do not tell the whole story. Given their citizenship status, Puerto Ricans are better described as colonial migrants. They have experienced decades of discrimination in labor and housing markets, disrupting the socio-economic and cultural assimilation processes that classical assimilation models have described among earlier waves of European immigrants (Pedraza and Back 2013; Visser and Meléndez 2011).

The annexation of Puerto Rico by the United States in 1898 as a result of the Spanish-American War led to a series of political and economic transformations on the island that in turn led to a series of migration waves during the twentieth century (Ayala and Bernabe 2007). In 1917 Puerto Ricans are granted citizenship under the Jones Act and start moving to the Northeast United States in large numbers, to the point where by 1930 the U.S. Census counted over 50,000 Boricuas living in the United States. But the largest migration wave from Puerto Rico to the United States occurred during the period 1946-1964 in what historians call the Great Migration (Acosta-Belen and Santiago 2006; Whalen and Vázquez Hernández 2005), with approximately one fifth of the population leaving the island. The most relevant causes or socio-political determinants of the Great Migration are generally understood by social scientists as follows:

* The decline of agriculture in Puerto Rico and especially the sugar cane sector, which displaced a lot of farm workers and small farm owners

* The economic re-structuring of the island economy toward industrial production aided by tax incentives granted to U.S.-owned corporations in the 1940s under Operation Bootstrap also leads to many displaced rural peasants

* The booming economy in the United States and its need for industrial, farm, and service workers at a time when immigration from Europe was restricted

* The aggressive efforts by the Puerto Rican government to persuade what they saw as a surplus population to seek employment in the United States, by providing information and negotiating job contracts with employers in the U.S. states

The long Puerto Rican history of migration sets them apart from more recent waves of Latin American immigration to the United States. Although it can be argued that this Puerto Rican experience offers insights into analyses of more recent immigration patterns, Puerto Ricans cannot be subsumed into comparative analysis with other immigrant groups, whether documented or undocumented. Indeed, after almost a century of living the ambiguous citizenship related to Puerto Rico's status as an unincorporated territory of the United States, Puerto Ricans have established circular migration patterns more easily crossing geographic than social, economic, and cultural borders (Duany 2002, 2011).

During the past 30 years, the strategy for improving their working and living conditions has led many Puerto Ricans, from Puerto Rico, as well as from traditional settlements in the Northeast and Midwest regions, to Sunbelt destinations, especially Florida. A 2011 survey by the Planning Board names Florida as the top destination for Puerto Ricans moving to the U.S. states. During that year, 30.5 percent of emigrants chose Florida (Commonwealth of Puerto Rico 2017, 33-34). But not all movers end up in sunny destinations. The decline of manufacturing jobs, coupled with gentrification of traditional settlements in places such as the Lower East side of Manhattan, have motivated many Puerto Ricans to seek jobs and cheaper housing in the New England area. In addition, a small, economically successful minority of Puerto Ricans has moved to affluent suburbs with predominantly white neighbors. …

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