The Rise of Radicalism
World War II to 1965
Abeses me digo yo mismo que me ubiese muerto aste de aber venido
a este paiz es ver que no se ingles y nada Valgo pero para dios
Pedro Lopez was a Puerto Rican living in Brooklyn during 1965. His letter to Manuel Cabranes, in the New York City Welfare Department, has a weird combination of self-pity and defiance. Lopez might be down but at least God supports– him, he claims. The Lopez letter is not unusual. Many Puerto Ricans were denied welfare at that time. Many received it. The Lopez letter, however, symbolizes the complex trajectory of power for the Puerto Rican community in the post–World War II period. A time of relative political influence after the war was followed by a quick decline in power. The entire ride up and down was no accident, however. It was the result of changing interests. What had been an intensive interest in the political and economic value of the Puerto Rican community disappeared by the late 1950s. Meanwhile, never having enjoyed any cultural power in the larger society, Puerto Ricans by the 1960s began to turn inwards, to draw strength from their own uniqueness as a culture and to finally see themselves as a “minority group.” If the larger society had concluded that Puerto Ricans were worth nothing, Puerto Ricans asserted that, yes, they were worth something, even if only to God and themselves.
In contrast to the previous period, the Puerto Rican community found that power could no longer be negotiated or fought for in the economic realm. The opportunities to connect and develop influence in the city had become primarily political. Puerto Ricans found more political than economic interest on the part of the larger society. Some of this shift from the primarily economic source of power Puerto Ricans experienced in the cigar makers' period originated in the social interest to use Puerto Ricans