Puerto Rican Migration to New York City
The story of the Puerto Rican people is unique in the history of U.S. immigration, just as Puerto Rico occupies a distinctive—and sometimes confusing—position in the nation’s civic fabric. Puerto Rico has been a possession of the U.S. for more than a century, but it has never been a state. Its people have been U.S. citizens since 1917, but they have no vote in Congress. As citizens, the people of Puerto Rico can move throughout the 50 states just as any other Americans can—legally, this is considered internal migration, not immigration. However, in moving to the mainland, Puerto Ricans leave a homeland with its own distinct identity and culture, and the transition can involve many of the same cultural conflicts and emotional adjustments that most immigrants face. Some writers have suggested that the Puerto Rican migration experience can be seen as an internal immigration—as the experience of a people who move within their own country, but whose new home lies well outside of their emotional home territory.
At first, few Puerto Ricans came to the continental U.S. at all. Although the U.S. tried to promote Puerto Rico as a glamorous tourist destination, in the early 20th century the island suffered a severe economic depression. Poverty was rife, and few of the island’s residents could afford the long boat journey to the mainland. In 1910, there were fewer than 2,000 Puerto Ricans in the continental U.S., mostly in small enclaves in New York City, and twenty years later there were only 40,000 more.
After the end of the Second World War, however, Puerto Rican migration exploded. In 1945, there had been 13,000 Puerto Ricans in New York City; in 1946 there were more than 50,000. Over the next decade, more than 25,000 Puerto Ricans would come to the continental U.S. each year, peaking in 1953, when more than 69,000 came. By 1955, nearly 700,000 Puerto Ricans had arrived. By the mid-1960s, more than...
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