A Grounded Identidad: Making New Lives in Chicago's Puerto Rican Neighborhoods

By Ramos-Zayas, Ana Yolanda | Centro Journal, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

A Grounded Identidad: Making New Lives in Chicago's Puerto Rican Neighborhoods


Ramos-Zayas, Ana Yolanda, Centro Journal


A Grounded Identidad: Making New Lives in Chicago's Puerto Rican Neighborhoods By Mérida Rúa New York: Oxford University Press, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-1997-6026-8 256 pages; $49.95 [cloth]

Mérida Rúa's Grounded Identidad: Making New Lives in Chicago's Puerto Rican Neighborhoods (2012) is a stellar work of interdisciplinary research that thoughtfully documents the lives of early Puerto Rican migrants to Chicago, from the 1950s through the present. Developing her thesis through a rare combination of archival research, life histories, and authorial self-reflection, Rúa develops an ethno-history of Puerto Rican Chicago that is beautifully written and intellectually rigorous. A Puerto Rican Chicago native herself, Rúa is able to draw on her personal background and intimate knowledge of Puerto Rican Chicago to formulate a powerfully emotive and rich portrait of a community characterized by displacement, heterogeneity, and tenacity. One of the book's greatest strengths is the interweaving of historical events and present identity formations through the narratives of older Chicagoan Puerto Ricans, who, in reminiscing about their own lives, also document the struggles to build community and create a home in the U.S.

Rúa situates the lives of the earliest Puerto Rican migrants to Chicago in a broader context of segregation, marginality, interracial collaborations, and gendered and classed intragroup dynamics. In the first chapter, Rúa approaches a narrative of Puerto Rican migration to Chicago from the largely unacknowledged perspective of female domestic workers and the networks these young (sometimes under-aged) women built. These networks involved not only other domestic workers and working-class populations, but also extended to their fascinating relationship with a group of female graduate students at the University of Chicago, including anthropologist Elena Padilla and Muna Muñoz, daughter of former Puerto Rico governor, Luis Muñoz Marín. Exploring these frequently neglected across-class relationships, Rúa discusses the nuanced and mutually validating ways in which upper-middle class Puerto Rican female students and poor or working-class Puerto Rican domestic workers collectively struggle for fair work conditions, acceptance, and recognition in the early years of Puerto Rican migration to the Windy City. It was through these complicated forms of solidarity that these women brought visibility to rampant civil rights violations and even effected a reaction from the upper echelons of gubernatorial politics in Puerto Rico.

In Rúa's book, the idea of "residence" is multivalent, as more explicitly examined in the second chapter of Grounded Identidad. Rúa connects the constant questioning of the validity of the U.S. citizenship of Puerto Ricans to the questions about residency, legality, and deportation that Mexicans faced. Residence, in the context of Puerto Rican Chicago, however, also referenced the continuous displacement that characterized any attempts by early Puerto Rican migrants (and even by contemporary Chicago Puerto Ricans) to settle in a neighborhood without a continuous reality of displacement. Rúa straddles both of these conceptions of residence to theorize about the alternative ways that Puerto Ricans developed to insist upon their belonging, as citizens in a colonial context and as pawns of a budding real estate industry. Rather than functioning as a community based on neighborhood and boundaries, Puerto Rican Chicago often relies on inscribing culture by developing social capital and cultivating fictive kinship. Grounded Identidad showcases the role of memory and even obituaries in preserving the meaningful spaces that gentrification has altered. …

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