Academic journal article Centro Journal

A New Framework for Understanding Puerto Ricans' Migration Patterns and Incorporation

Academic journal article Centro Journal

A New Framework for Understanding Puerto Ricans' Migration Patterns and Incorporation

Article excerpt

Of all the ethnic groups in the U.S. classified under the Latino banner, Puerto Ricans hold a unique place through its unique political and legal status. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens since 1917, and as such have unimpeded movement between the Island and the fifty states that make the American nation. However, their contentious colonial status and their treatment as second-class citizens in the U.S. mainland have created less than ideal conditions for their socioeconomic incorporation as subsequent generations arrive. Puerto Ricans have experienced one of the most massive migrations in modern history, and as a result some social scientists have labeled them the "commuter nation" and a "nation on the move" (Duany 2002). For those remaining on the Island there appears to be conflicting desire to both remain a distinct nationality with Latin American and Spanish language cultural traits and yet closely aligned politically and economically to the United States, in a psychological dance some have called the "colonial dilemma" (Meléndez and Meléndez 1993).

This essay examines and discusses some of the social science paradigms developed to explain the initial migration of ethnic and racial groups in the United States and the applicability of these theories to the Puerto Rican experience. The initial discussion focuses on the migration waves occurring from the early to the middle of the twentieth century, while the second part examines more recent decades when many Boricuas moved to Sunbelt destinations while others settled in mid-sized cities in the Northeast. Another goal of this essay is to examine both traditional and recent social science models and their applicability to the cultural and economic incorporation of Puerto Ricans in the United States. To analyze the socioeconomic mobility of Puerto Ricans, the author examines the paradigms or models known as classic assimilation, underclass or culture of poverty, segmented assimilation, place stratification, racialized place inequality framework, and stratified ethnoracial incorporation. In the following sections I will discuss some of the social science paradigms developed to explain the initial migration and adaptation of ethnic and racial groups in the United States. I will frame the discussion around the applicability of these theories to the Puerto Rican experience.

THEORIES OF MIGRATION AND APPLICABILITY TO PUERTO RICANS

From the "Great Migration" to the Great Dispersal

The first contacts between Puerto Ricans and United States people probably came as a result of clandestine barter trades where molasses and rum were exchanged for cotton, jute, iron and steel parts, and other products useful for the sugar plantations of the 19th century. The failed revolt against Spain in 1868 known as El Grito De Lares forced many of its leaders into exile in the United States, where they joined Cubans and continued to plot for the liberation of the two islands from the Spanish crown.

At a time when Puerto Ricans had gained increasing political autonomy and representation in Spain's parliament, the Spanish-American War returns the Island to a low colonial status with the military in charge under the United States tutelage at the end of the 19th century. Puerto Ricans were contracted to work as agricultural labor in farms in the American south and Hawaii during the early years of the 20th century.

In 1917 Puerto Ricans are granted citizenship under the Jones Act, start serving in the U.S. Army, and begin a steady migration into the Northeast United States, gaining significant numbers in the city of New York. Early settlements developed in Manhattan's Lower East Side, Chelsea, and along the Navy Yard area of Brooklyn. Later, settlements appeared in South Bronx, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and Brentwood, Long Island. As a result, the 1930 Census counted over 50,000 Boricuas living in the United States. In the 1940s and 1950s migration waves also reached the American Midwest, with communities developing in Chicago, Lorain (Ohio), Cleveland, Milwaukee, and many others. …

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