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THE 'RICANS UNDERCLASS STATUS?
A LOOK FROM WITHIN CHICAGO
ADRIANA SANCHEZ RUIZ
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Adriana Sanchez Ruiz
To all my Puerto Rican friends who were an inspiration and my support, as well as my parents
and other family members and friends for their encouragement in achieving this endeavor.
I thank the chair and members of my supervisory committee for their mentoring and for
believing in this proj ect. I especially would like to thank Dr. Helena Rodrigues for her time and
her support both personally and academically throughout the development of this thesis. She not
only believed that I could finish it, but provided the guiding hand that helped me achieve this
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. ...............4.....
LI ST OF T ABLE S ................. ...............6................
LI ST OF FIGURE S .............. ...............7.....
AB S TRAC T ......_ ................. ............_........8
1 INTRODUCTION ................. ...............9.......... ......
Chapter Notes .............. ...............15....
2 THE PUERTO RICAN MIGRATION ................. ...............17........... ...
Circular Migration and Puerto Rican Migration to Chicago .............. .....................2
Conclusion ................ ...............29.................
Chapter Notes .............. ...............32....
3 DEFINING AND NEGOTIATING PUERTO RICAN IDENTITY ................. ................. 33
The Taino Revival and Displacement of the African Ancestry ................. ......................3 6
Puerto Rican Identity formation in Chicago ................. ...............40...............
Conclusion ................ ...............45.................
Chapter Notes .............. ...............47....
4 PUERTO RICAN CHICAGO .............. ...............48....
Gentrification and its Effect on the Puerto Rican Population of Chicago ................... ...........51
Division Street/ Pa~seo Boricua .............. ...............56....
Conclusion ............ .... __ ...............61...
Chapter Notes .............. ...............66....
5 CONCLU SION................ ..............6
LI ST OF REFERENCE S ............ ...... __ ...............71..
LIST OF TABLES
1-1 Puerto Rican Population in the United States by State, 2000............_ .. ......._._.......16
LIST OF FIGURES
4-1 Puerto Rican Communities of Settlement in the 1960s ......_._._ ........._. ........._.....64
4-2 Mexican Communities of Settlement in the 1960s ....._____ .........__ ...........__....6
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
THE 'RICANS UNDERCLASS STATUS?
A LOOK FROM WITHIN CHICAGO
Adriana Sanchez Ruiz
Chair: Phillip Williams
Maj or Department: Latin American Studies
This thesis examines the Puerto Rican population in the city of Chicago. Its purpose is to
explain and understand why nationally Puerto Ricans trail behind Mexicans and other Latinos on
particular dimensions of well-being, such as access to employment, education, and proper
housing. To do this, I looked at the structural and social factors that have affected Puerto
Ricans' likelihood to achieve economic success, and how those factors have limited their ability
to improve their livelihoods in this city. I have chosen to study the Puerto Rican community in
Chicago because of the sizeable Mexican and African-American populations present in the city,
facilitating comparison among these groups. This study found that understanding the success of
Puerto Ricans (or lack there of), requires looking at the nature of the Puerto Rican migration to
the mainland, the lack of U. S. funded or sponsored programs to assist in that migration process,
varying racial and ethnic identities existing on the mainland and the island, and widespread
gentrification in Chicago communities. These factors have hindered the successful incorporation
of Puerto Rican migrants into American society and its economy, ultimately limiting Puerto
Ricans' ability to achieve upward mobility in the United States.
The great immigration from Puerto Rico started after World War II, because of "cheap air
transportation, acquaintance with the mainland acquired by many during service in the army,
rising education under the new political order on the island [and] the growing pressure of
population which has more than doubled since the beginning of the century" (Wagenheim and
Jimenez-Wahenheim, eds, 2002:249). The economic challenges faced by Puerto Ricans on the
island encouraged the migration of many non-skilled workers, who like most immigrants, faced a
number of challenges such as racial discrimination, limited affordable housing and well-paid
employment, etc., despite their legal status in this country. They joined the workforce on
underpaid jobs such as service workers, precision production, repair, and transportation. They
were also subj ect to discrimination and had to live in central cities of metropolitan areas, public
housing or in areas more commonly referred to as the "hood."
Nationally, Puerto Ricans trail behind Mexicans and other Latinos on particular
dimensions of well-being such as access to employment opportunities, education, healthcare,
proper housing, etc. This lag was caused by structural and institutional factors that will be
discussed throughout this research. Furthermore, their disadvantaged status is troubling
considering that Puerto Ricans are American citizens at birth, arguably granting them more
employment opportunities, which in return, should allow for more opportunities for
advancement. This research seeks to address broadly the question of why Puerto Ricans have
been less successful than other Latino groups or other minority groups in the United States.
Even though measuring success of this group is difficult, this research seeks to show how
citizenship at birth does not necessarily mean that an individual will have equal access to
opportunities that will help them improve their livelihoods. I will look at the nature of the
migration of this group, as well as structural and social factors (employment market,
gentrification, racialization in the U.S. white/black dichotomy, etc.) that have affected their
likelihood to achieve economic development. For the purpose of answering this question I have
chosen the city of Chicago for it has sizeable Mexican and African-American populations with
which comparisons can be made. I chose to study Chicago instead of New York City because
there have not been many studies performed on Chicago and though the Mexican population in
New York City is growing, is not as sizeable as it is in Chicago.
In addition to socioeconomic and demographic factors, this research considers how
Puerto Ricans in the United States found it more "difficult than groups which came before them
to form their own in-group leadership" partly because they lacked a tradition in leadership due to
the hundreds of years of colonial administration (Wagenheim and Jimenez-Wahenheim, eds,
2002:249). This condition may help explain why Puerto Rican migrants were less successful
than other immigrant groups in creating social networks/enclaves that could help their
community to achieve upward mobility as opposed to the downward mobility that has been
observed among second and third generation Puerto Ricans. For instance, Puerto Ricans have
the highest poverty rates among Latinos, as well as the greatest percentage of female- headed
households in the country as well as in Chicago.l
Interestingly, Puerto Rican migration to the mainland has not been unidirectional and
some authors have argued that this circular migration is a "disruptive process that prevents
migrants and their children from establishing strong roots and attachments in local communities,
labor markets, and institutions such as schools" (Perez, 2004:94). On the other hand, other
scholars have argued against these claims by "emphasizing the structural forces underlying these
multiple movements, such as deteriorating labor possibilities as a result of economic
restructuring in northeastern cities like New York or changes in minimum wage legislation in
Puerto Rico in the 1970s" (94). In addition, others have shown that only a "specific type of
migrant engages in circular migration and that most are settled in particular communities"
(Perez, 2004:94). It can be argued that all these claims are possible and that they can be used to
further explain why Puerto Ricans have not been able to build tight social networks from which
they can benefit in order to succeed on the mainland. The issue of circular migration and its
implications will be furthered discussed in Chapter 2 of this research.
According to the 2002 U.S. Census Bureau's survey on Hispanic population, Puerto
Ricans constitute 8.6%, or 3.2 million, of the Hispanic population in this country. Similarly,
they are 30.6% of the Latino population under 18 years old, falling behind Mexicans who make
up 3 7. 1%, but leading Cubans who are at 19.6% of the Latino population and Central and South
Americans who constitute 28.1% of the Latino population. And as mentioned earlier, among
Hispanic households, Puerto Ricans have the largest proportion of single female-headed
households (38.3%) as compared to 19.18% of Mexican households, 17.35% of Cuban
households and 23.6% of Central and South American households.2
With respect to education, Puerto Ricans represent 15.5% of the Latino population with
less than a 9th grade education, as opposed to 32. 1% of Mexicans, 19.2% of Cubans, and 22.3%
of Central and South Americans.3 Though Puerto Ricans seem to have performed better in
middle school; on the other hand, with respect to the Latino population with a college degree or
higher, 14% of Puerto Ricans have a bachelor's degree, compared to 7.6% of Mexicans, 18.6%
of Cubans, and 17.3% of Central and South Americans. In addition, the unemployment rate
among Puerto Ricans is higher than other minority groups (at 9.6 %), in comparison to Mexicans
at 8.4%, Cubans at 6. 1%, and Central and South Americans at 6.8%. Finally, 65.1% of full-time,
year-round workers who are Latino with earnings of less than $3 5,000 (2001) are Puerto Ricans,
compared to 76.3% who are Mexicans, 65.5% who are Cubans, and 72% who are Central and
South Americans.4 These statistics illustrate how Puerto Ricans do sometimes lag behind other
Latino groups in the United States even though they are citizens at birth and are believed to have
certain advantages, including access to education and employment opportunities that are not
readily available to non-citizens or other minorities.
These statistics contribute to a better understanding of the demographics of Puerto Ricans
in terms of their income, education attainment, age, family structure, etc., compared to other
Latino groups. In addition, these statistics also help to compare this group to African-
Americans. For instance, the percentage of full-time, year-round workers with earnings of less
than $35,000 in 2004 for African-Americans was 23.6% (compared to Puerto Ricans' 65.1% of
the Hispanic population), their unemployment rate was 10.7% (Puerto Ricans, 9.6% of
unemployed Hispanics)), and the percentage of African- American female heads of households
was 44.7% (Puerto Ricans, 38.3% of the Hispanic population). Furthermore, with respect to
educational attainment, 5.7% of African-Americans have less than a 9th grade education (Puerto
Ricans 15.5% of the Latino population), and 12.3% have completed a bachelor's degree (Puerto
Ricans, 14% of the Latino population).
From these statistics, we are also able to observe that in many ways, the poverty levels of
Puerto Ricans, their unemployment conditions, and their household structure help explain why
most Puerto Ricans live in poorer neighborhoods, have less educational attainment and, as a
result, might have more opportunities for interaction with African-Americans than whites or
other minorities. Table 1-1, provides the geographic distribution of Puerto Ricans in the United
States according to state, with California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New
Jersey, Florida, and New York have the largest proportion of the Puerto Rican population
(>140,000 people). 6
It has been argued that Puerto Ricans "share common ground with African-Americans
not only because of their similar socioeconomic experiences as racialized ethnic minorities in the
United States but also because Puerto Rican culture is as Spanish as it is African," considering
how mestizaje took place on the island during the colonial time (Rivera, 2003:8). In addition,
both Puerto Ricans and African-Americans have been integrated into the "lowest rungs of the
labor structure under similar circumstances and, since then, have lived parallel experiences"
(Rivera, 2003:25). For instance, their shared history of "unemployment and underemployment,
police brutality, negative portrayals in academic literature and media, housing and employment
discrimination, residential displacement and racial violence [which] have not only been similar
but also linked" (25).
Puerto Ricans have also been racialized as "dark, dangerous others who, although
different from African-Americans, share with them a multitude of social spaces, conditions and
dispositions" (Rivera, 2003:26). It is for these reasons that Puerto Ricans have tried to
distinguish themselves from the African American population in order to avoid bearing similar
racial and socioeconomic stigmas (27). This process was achieved by reassuring their "Puerto
Ricanness" and embracing it as a race rather than just an ethnic origin and also by utilizing
cultural markers such as language, the Puerto Rican flag, and music. Nevertheless, it is their
shared history as part of their African diaspora, as well as their shared socioeconomic
exploitation, marginalization and cultural formation that Puerto Ricans, as well as other Latinos,
and blacks "learned they both suffer from oppression, poverty, and share common history and
roots" (Rodriguez, 1995). These issues will be furthered explore in Chapter 3, in which I will
attempt to define what it is to be Puerto Rican and how Puerto Ricans on both the island and the
mainland view themselves according to their location (island/mainland), see their Puerto Rican
counterparts mainlanderss vs. islanders) and negotiate what they believe to be a "true" Puerto
Rican identity with respect to each other and other minority groups. Finally, Chapter 4 addresses
the history of Puerto Ricans in Chicago since their migration, the characteristics of their
employment, and the effects that gentrification and their displacement from their former
communities has had on their livelihoods.
SChicago Urban League, Latino Institute, and Northern Illinois University 1994; Latino Institute
2 U.S. Census Bureau. Survey on Hispanic Population. March 2002. April 17, 2006. April
SSource: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic
Supplement, 2004, racial Statistics Branch, Population Division.
6 Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census 2000, Summary File I.
SSee Nazario, El element Afr~onegroide en el espanol de Puerto Rico; Juan Giusti Cordero,
"AfroPuerto Rican cultural Studies: Beyond Cultural negroide and antillanismo,"~~11~~~11~~11 Centro 8, no. 1
and 2 (1996): 57-77; Jose Luis Gonzalez, El Pais de los cuatro pesos y otros ensssssssssssssayos (Rio
Piedras: Ediciones Huracan, 1989); Isabelo Zen6n Cruz, Narciso descubre su tra~sero (Humacao:
Table 1-1 Puerto Rican Population in the United States by State, 20001
State Puerto Rican State Puerto Rican
Wi scon sin
District of Columbia
Adapted from: Perez, Gina M.2004. The Near Northwest Side Story. Berkeley : University of
California Press. p. 11. Original source: U.S. Census Bureau, Census, 2000, Summary File I.
THE PUERTO RICAN MIGRATION
Puerto Rico was occupied in 1898 by the United States after its victory in the Spanish-
Cuban-American war. Puerto Rico, being in the Caribbean, was considered geopolitically
strategic as it would serve as an important economic route to Central and South America and as a
strategic military location for "defending both U.S. mainland as well as U.S. interests in the rest
of the Americas" (Genova and Ramos-Zaya, 2003:7). As Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth
of the United States, and as such, it became an "enclave" of the U.S. economy (7), the U.S.
government sponsored Puerto Rican migration by developing "official labor recruitment
campaigns" established on the island in order to contract migrant workers to satisfy the labor
demands present in the mainland industries (Genova and Ramos-Zaya, 2003:8). The Puerto
Ricans who migrated were comprised of many people from the rural areas, specifically displaced
farmers and farm laborers, whose activities were considered "economically marginal"
(Rodriguez, 1989: 1).
Interestingly, the encouragement of immigration from the island by the U.S. was partly
due to the break of the Cold War and the United States' need to prevent the spread of communist
ideas in the western hemisphere (Grosfoguel 2003). As new independent countries emerged in
the periphery of the world economy in the aftermath of World War II, it created competition and
preoccupation between the two super powers of the United States and the Soviet Union about
"how to control the elites of the newly independent countries if the old colonial means of
domination had been destroyed" (Grosfoguel, 2003: 107). The Truman administration's
response to this challenge was to engage in an "ambitious foreign aid and technical-training
programs to ideologically co-opt Third World elites [and] increase the symbolic capital of the
U.S. model of development vis-a-vis that of the Soviet model" (107). In other words, by
achieving social and economic development in Puerto Rico, the U.S. sought to present the
success of its program on the island as a model for other Latin American countries to follow and
prevent them from following the communist ideal. Part of this challenge constituted negotiations
with the Luis Mufioz Marin' s colonial government in Puerto Rico during the late 1940s in order
1. Conceal the colonial status of the island by creating a more subtle form of
colonial relationship called the commonwealth.
2. Include Puerto Rico in U.S. federal programs for health, education, housing,
and other infrastructural programs without its paying federal taxes.
3. Support Operation Bootstrap, which consisted of attracting U.S. labor-
intensive industries by offering tax-exemptions and a cheapo-wage labor
4. Reduce the cost of air fares between the island and the mainland to foster
mass migration. (Grosfoguel 1992).
Also after World War II, there emerged a large demand for cheap labor for
manufacturing industries in urban centers such as New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
Thus, in order to achieve the development program of Puerto Rico, the U. S encouraged the
emigration of the lower strata of the island to allow the upward mobility of those who stayed
behind (Grosfoguel, 2003:109). As a result, Puerto Rican migration to the mainland served as
an escape valve for the increasingly poor population and as a way to relieve the socio-
economic tensions created by the lack of industrialization of the island. In return, this
migration helped the Truman admini station use Puerto Rico as "part of the core-state' s
geopolitical symbolic strategy to gain symbolic capital vis-a-vis the Soviet Union,"
(Grosfoguel, 2003:1 10) and this model, if proven successful, could be sold to Third World
elites as an alternative for development that differed from the Soviet Union model. However,
resources were channeled to the islanders and not to those who had migrated. Consequently,
the migrant group did not receive "proper state support in bilingual programs, education,
health, housing subsidies, and j ob training" (1 10). This lack of programs to help Puerto Rican
migrants incorporate successfully into the American society, resulted in these migrants moving
into urban ghettos as "unskilled low-wage workers with one the highest poverty rates in the
United States" (Grosfoguel, 2003:110).
The Puerto Rican migration to the U.S. mainland and the lack of programs to assist those
who migrated presents an occasion to compare to the migration of Puerto Ricans to another
Latino group, namely Cubans. Cubans had been present in Florida since the late-19th century
through the establishment of a flourishing cigar industry in 1885 by Vicente Martinez Ybor and
Ignacio Haya. Ybor and Haya "purchased forty acres of swamp near Tampa, drained the land,
and set about building a company town" which would become part of a steamship line between
Havana, Key West and Tampa. Consequently, by the early twentieth century there were nearly
50,000 to 100,000 Cubans traveling between Havana, Key West, and Tampa. In addition, the
small Cuban elite tied to U.S. companies invested their money on Wall Street, sent their children
to U.S. colleges, vacationed in this country and many became citizens (Gonzalez, 2000: 110).
Furthermore, in addition to the political refugee status granted to the Cubans in the
aftermath of the Cuban Revolution (and the subsequent establishment of a communist regime)
the U.S. government provided them with assistance programs under the 1966 Cuban Adjustment
Act. Cuban refugees were "instantly eligible for public assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, free
English courses, scholarships, and low interest college loans" as well as able to "secure
immediate business credit and start-up loans" (Gonzalez, 2000:110, 111). To date, no such
comparable assistance has been given to Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, or other Latinos.
These benefits given to Cuban migrants, helped put Cubans in a more advantageous
position visad vis other Latinos. Not Dominicans, Haitians, or Central Americans (Guatemalans,
Salvadorans, Nicaraguans), who were fleeing from civil wars and persecution in their own
countries, received any such services or legal status as the Cubans fleeing Castro's communism.
In addition, the experience of Cubans in the U.S. after their massive exodus from the communist
regime was different from other minority groups because in the white/black racial dichotomy of
the United States, they were not racialized in the same ways Puerto Ricans and Mexicans who
were, often considered "dark, dangerous, others" (Rivera, 2003:26). This is partially due to the
differences in race and class of the early Cuban migrants compared to Puerto Ricans and
Mexicans, who were often dark (at least in the "white" American social imagery) and low skill
workers, while the Cubans tended to be light-skinned professionals.
Puerto Rican migration to the mainland was different than that of the Cubans because
they were not fleeing political repression. In addition, their migration was unlike of that of the
Cubans because it was influenced by the crisis and decline of U. S. export-oriented agriculture on
the island (sugar and tobacco) between the 1930s and 1960s. This process resulted in "massive
unemployment and shift on the island toward export-oriented, light, labor-intensive, machine-
based industry; the uneven imposition of welfare-state reforms; and a mass market for low-
income housing and individual mechanized transportation" (Santiago-Valles and Jimenez-
Mufioz, 2004:89). The subsequent re-incorporation of Puerto Ricans within the "restructured
world-economy" led to the migration of manual day laborers, landless peasants, and distressed
small-property owners. Even though, many of these immigrants brought "non-transferable
skills," they also brought transferable skills that could not be used. As Handling (1959) argues,
Puerto Ricans "had to accept whatever j obs were available" even if they had skills or had
training in white-collar occupations, they still had to take the jobs being offered to them (70).
The migrants who left the island during this period (1960s) moved into the rundown
buildings that had provided housing for Italians, Jews, and Poles in northeastern U.S. cities and
Chicago during the 1940s and 1950s. As they settled in these cities, the Puerto Ricans joined the
"similarly colonized populations from the U.S. South, U.S. Southwest, and Mexico who were
nevertheless being incorporated within a much a broader spectrum of the U. S. economy"
(Santiago-Valles and Jimenez-Mufioz, 2004:89). This "broader spectrum of the economy" can
be observed through how Puerto Ricans working as seasonal migrants in the U.S. mainland
"began overlapping with other ways of exploiting peripheral labor in the United States -such as
share-cropping, the convict-lease system, the bracero program- alongside higher-wage labor in
the industrial production of capital consumer goods" (90).
Nevertheless, during the 1960s, Puerto Ricans' successful struggles for labor and civil
rights made them "too expensive for the increasingly informalized manufacturing sector"
(Grosfoguel, 2003:165). At the same time, the de-industrialization of New York, as well as other
cities, led to the loss of thousands of manufacturing j obs. Many of the manufacturing industries
transferred their operation to peripheral regions around the world, such as Asia and Latin
America, where they could find cheaper sources of labor. Moreover, the manufacturing industry,
targeted new Latino immigrants, whether legal or illegal, since they lacked the rights that
"internal colonial subj ects" such as Puerto Ricans had acquired through their citizenship
(Grosfoguel, 2003:165). The subsequent exclusion of Puerto Ricans from surviving
manufacturing jobs in the Northeast and Chicago, and "the racialized, segregated educational
system that excluded Puerto Ricans from the best public schools, produced a redundant labor
force that could not reenter the formal labor market" (Grosfoguel, 2003:166).
Further, the economic restructuring that took place on the island and the extension of
federal minimum wage levels to Puerto Rico, as well as the strengthening of capitalist views
around the world and its subsequent need worldwide for cheaper labor after the 1980s, led
employers to substitute different segments of Puerto Rican labor on the island with immigrant
labor from other places in the world, such as Asia and the rest of the Caribbean Basin (Sassen-
Koob 1985; Duany 1995). Unfortunately, those who were affected by the changes on the island
migrated to the U.S. Only to find that Puerto Ricans in some U.S. cities were facing the same
challenges. Employers replaced them from the few manufacturing jobs available with cheaper
laborers. This led to the creation of what is considered the Puerto Rican "underclass," but which
Ram6n Grosfoguel and Sherri Grasmuck (1997) have referred to as a "redundant
colonial/racialized labor force," which for the most part encouraged Puerto Ricans to engage in
alternative forms of employment (whether legal or illegal) in order to survive (Grosfoguel and
Even though the Puerto Rican migration of the 1940s through the 1990s was comprised
mostly of working-class individuals, in the 1980s and the 1990s a more "socio-economically
mixed migration" which included students and professionals took place. Nonetheless, in spite of
this rise in "class differentiation" among Puerto Ricans on the mainland, according to estimates
from 1998 and 2000, 30.4% of all Puerto Ricans lived below the official poverty line, with 7.3%
receiving some form of public assistance and an unemployment rate of 8.3%.1 Hence, Puerto
Ricans as a group have steadily continued to be the poorest among Latino groups, and they have
also remained among the poorest U.S. citizens (Genova and Ramos-Zaya, 2003:11).
An important consequence of the "long-wave of global economic decline" that led to the
de-industrialization of cities such as New York was a change in the demographic profile of
Puerto Ricans, who had overwhelmingly settled in the Northeast. In response to the economic
changes in the Northeast, Puerto Ricans started to move in significant numbers to Illinois, Ohio,
and Indiana. As a result, the percentage of Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. Midwest, including
the city of Chicago, increased from 4 % to 10% during the late 1960s and early 1970s (Santiago-
Valles and Jimenez-Mufioz, 2004:89). However, moving to a city like Chicago did not
constitute a "qualitative shift" for Puerto Ricans toward different kinds of job opportunities than
those found in New York City, but was rather a "quantitative shift." Puerto Ricans were trying
to "find more of the same kind of subsistence activities" that had started to decrease in the
northeast (Santiago-Valles and Jimenez-Mufioz, 2004:89).
Due to racial segregation and limited affordable housing, Puerto Ricans became spatially
and socio-economically concentrated in different areas establishing a variety of "identifiable
barrios" (Santiago-Valles and Jimenez-Mufioz, 2004:97). For the most part these new ghettos
were established in "close proximity to, or intermixed with, other Caribbean and African
American populations" similar to East Harlem (El Barrio), New York City's Lower East Side
(Loisaida), southern Brooklyn (Los Sures), the South Bronx, Roxbury in Boston, Northern
Philadelphia, and the Division Street sector of Chicago (Santiago-Valles and Jimenez-Mufioz,
The socio-economic marginalization of Puerto Ricans had a negative impact on future
generations: 50% of all Puerto Rican children in the United States in 1998 still lived below
poverty level (U.S. Bureau of the Census 2000). Furthermore, the unemployment rates for
Puerto Ricans continued to fluctuate between 2. 17 times (1990) and 2.38 times (2000) the
general United States average percentages. By the year 2000, Puerto Ricans continue to have
one of the highest unemployment rates (8.3%) and most prominent poverty levels (30.4%)
among all of the U.S. Hispanic population groups.2 By 1999, 64 % of all Puerto Ricans in the
U.S. had obtained a high school diploma or more education (up from 58%in 1991), performing
better than Chicanos and Mexicans (49.7%), but still performing behind the equivalent
proportions for U.S. whites, whose high school completion rates had increased to 87.7% during
this time (U. S. Bureau of the Census 2000).
Nonetheless, Kelvin A. Santiago-Valles and Glady M. Jimenez-Mufioz (2004) argue that
this "dramatic increase in educational attainment appears to be associated with the increasing
social polarization among Puerto Ricans in the United States since the 1980s, rather than any
single statistical anomaly between Puerto Ricans and Chicanos and Mexicans" (107). To explain
this discrepancy, they show that "despite having higher poverty levels than U.S. Mexicans, by
1999 there were proportionally more Puerto Ricans than U.S. Mexicans in the U.S. mainland
who were full-time, year-round workers with annual earnings of $3 5,000 or above" (U. S. Bureau
of the Census 2000). Consequently, the presence of this particular Puerto Rican population,
which was moderately in a better economic situation, "threw off the curve and contrasted sharply
with the continuing bleak conditions among most Puerto Ricans in the United States during the
1990s" (107,108). In other words, the evidence found by Santiago-Valles and Jimenez-Mufioz
illustrates that though some statistics may show that Puerto Ricans had higher earnings than
Mexicans in 1999, it does not necessarily mean this group does not have higher poverty rates
than Mexicans. Instead, this discrepancy is explained by the influx of Puerto Rican professionals
from the island during this time, which could have possibly skew the statistical curve and portray
a reality that was not experienced by the mainland Puerto Rican community in general.
Circular Migration and Puerto Rican Migration to Chicago
As it was discussed earlier, the U. S. occupation of Puerto Rico in 1898 and the
"subsequent consolidation of U.S. agrarian capitalism and shrinking small-scale subsistence
cultivation helped set in motion population movements to places like Hawaii, Arizona,
California, and most notably, New York City" (Perez, 2004:10). In addition, between 1900 and
1940, more than ninety thousand Puerto Ricans migrating from the island (even though some
would later return to Puerto Rico) seeking employment in New York, Pennsylvania, and New
Jersey."3 This massive migration was encouraged initially by the large demand for cheap labor
for manufacturing industries in urban centers after WWII, and then by the post-war de-
industrialization of cities such as New York, which led Puerto Ricans to the Midwest seeking
similar job opportunities. Furthermore, in 1946, "single Puerto Rican women were recruited by
a Chicago-based employment agency to remedy the city's 'maid shortage,'" hence contributing
to the growth of Puerto Ricans in this city (Perez, 2004:9).
According to Perez' s study (2004), nearly "one-third of the island' s population circulated
or emigrated to the United States between 1955-1970, as Puerto Ricans continued to leave the
island in large numbers" (10). Later by the early 1970s, however, the de-industrialization in
Northeastern and Midwestern cities led to the migration of Puerto Ricans to other cities in the
U. S. due to the decline in manufacturing j obs; it inversely reduced migration from the island as it
became a "less attractive option for working-class migrants" (Perez, 2004:10). Nonetheless, this
trend would change in the mid 1980s and 1990s, when migration from the island increased yet
Puerto Rican migration has not been unidirectional and it is in fact circular as return
migration began in the mid 1960s and then increased considerably by the early 1970s and in
"some years even surpassed emigration from the island, a trend that continued through the early
1980s."4 Interestingly, in similar ways to other late-twentieth century migrations, Puerto Rican
migration had "evolved to include a variety of new destinations, multiple movements, and
sustained connections among different places, a phenomenon popularly regarded as a "va y ven"
(or vaiven), movement, an experience of coming and going familiar to many Puerto Ricans, and
one that has provoked serious debate both inside and outside the academy" (Perez, 2004: 11).
For some scholars, the "--ninen1 tradition" is a consequence of economic changes both in
Puerto Rico and on the mainland and it has "become a culturally conditioned way for migrants to
improve their economic and social position" (Perez, 2004:12). According to sociologist Marixsa
Alicea (1990), the migrants and their families construct and utilize "dual home bases," which is
observed in how Puerto Rican migrants built these home bases on the island and the mainland, in
order to "maintain social and psychological anchors in both the United States and Puerto Rico'
and belong simultaneously to several dwellings."'
It can be argued that for other scholars like anthropologist Jorge Duany (2002), these
"dual home bases" developed through circular migration -or "mobile livelihoods practices" -is
also a "flexible survival strategy" that helps enhance the migrant's socioeconomic status. For
Duany, the poor economic conditions on both the island and the mainland have led Puerto Rican
migrants to create and "make use of extensive networks, including multiple home bases in
several labor markets." These transnational practices, not only counterweigh the fact that
"economic opportunities are unequally distributed in space, but they also undermine the highly
localized images of space, culture, and identity that have dominated nationalist discourse and
practice in Puerto Rico and elsewhere." 6 These transnational practices, therefore, illustrate the
difference in economic opportunities in both the mainland and the island, which makes it in some
ways preferable for Puerto Ricans to leave the island and look for better employment
opportunities in the mainland. Similarly, these practices deconstruct what island Puerto Ricans
have believed to be an authentic Puerto Rican identity as well as its culture for mainland Puerto
Ricans have recreated traditional Puerto Rican cultural practices and have also created a new
sense of identity that goes in hand with their experiences in the United States. The ways in
which circular migration have undermined these "highly localized images of space, culture, and
identity" argued by Duany will be furthered studied in Chapter 3.
The "dual home bases" and "mobile livelihoods practices" are better illustrated in Gina
M. Perez' ethnographic study (2004), which looks at the links between Puerto Ricans migrating
from the community of San Sebastian de las Vegas del Pepino in Puerto Rico to the city of
Chicago and from Chicago to back to this community in the island. Her findings show that
circular migration can be understood, in the same way observed by Jorge Duany, as a "flexible
survival strategy used by migrants to negotiate changing political-economic realities
circumscribing their lives and to enhance their economic status" (94). Puerto Ricans move to
Chicago searching for job opportunities and the means to provide a better socio-economic
environment; however, more often than not, they are faced by dead-end j obs and poor living
standards. As a result, many families return to Puerto Rico seeking a "safer environment for
their children and families or to improve their living conditions" and according to Perez, "they
may subsequently return to Chicago for better health care, jobs, or schooling." Perez further
argues that the "decision to move rests partly on the migrants' assessment of which place offers
the best opportunity to meet household needs, but it is also conditioned by decades of migration
practices that have become woven into the fabric of Puerto Rican island and mainland
Perez' ethnographic study further helps scholars understand the difficulties undertaken by
those who return to Puerto Rico after being in Chicago. One of her interviewees, Elena
It wasn't easy. After living in Chicago where you have your good job, and you
would eat out on Fridays and maybe Saturdays too... and to come to Puerto Rico I
had to get used to cooking breakfast, lunch and diner... It wasn't easy... After one
has lived in Chicago, it's not easy to adjust to life here ... I would never tell anyone
to come to Puerto Rico [to live] (107).
As it is observed, Elena's experience in engaging in this "reverse migration" illustrates
the difficulties faced by her family on the island. It also shed light on how life in Chicago may
be hard, but returning to the island does not necessarily guarantee an improvement in their living
Perez's study is filled with different examples outlining the struggles these families faced
once they returned to the island. For example, she includes how many were seen as the
"outsiders" and in many ways, their cultural identity had been renegotiated as they adapted to
U.S. lifestyle; their "Puerto Ricanness" was often questioned by those still living on the island.
Her study of the different families shows that it is harder for the children to adjust because their
Spanish is often not perfect, and they tend to speak Spanish with an American accent as opposed
to a "Puerto Rican" one. Women also have an arduous time in adjusting because they are
subjected to "live up to constructed norms of behavior or dress" and when they fail to do so, they
"are punished and labeled de afuera [women who have lived in the U.S. and come back to Puerto
Rico]," which Perez argues is a "process that demonstrated the ways in which a glorified Puerto
Rican past depends on racialized constructions of women and motherhood" (Perez, 2004: 116).
These changes are blamed on the influences of American popular culture which are found to
threaten traditional Puerto Rican conservative/cultural norms. Nonetheless, despite these
challenges, the women interviewed eventually adjusted to life in San Sebastian and believed it
was the best move they had made for it provided a safer environment for their children.
Nonetheless, other writers have argued that the "continual circulation of Puerto Rican
migrants is a key contributor to increased economic immiseration and poverty among Puerto
Ricans on the mainland, since such movement disrupts families and people's participation in the
labor market." 7 Though such a claim may be applied to certain circumstances, it is almost
impossible to generalize and agree that circular migration has contributed to the "immiseration
and poverty" of the Puerto Rican community. As it has been observed, it is the poverty levels of
this community as well as their struggles in the United States what has caused Puerto Ricans to
return to the island on the first place in an attempt to improve their livelihoods. Perhaps it can be
argued that the way this movement disrupts their participation in the labor market has to do with
their unavailability to be promoted in their j obs, for they are constantly in the move and once
they return they are given the same position and have to start over again to advance.
Nonetheless, this issue cannot be observed in absolute terms and one needs to look at what
structural and institutional factors are affecting Puerto Rican' s ability to find good paying jobs
that will improve their living conditions and consequently, will not encourage their migration
back to the island.
The Puerto Rican migration to the U.S. has been an ongoing process influenced by the
labor needs of the U. S., the American response to the Cold War challenges, and the crisis of
global economy after the 1960s. The first large wave of Puerto Rican migrants were
skilled/urban laborers between 1900 and 1945 and during this period, Puerto Ricans they were
actively recruited as cheap labor for the manufacturing industries in New York City after the first
and second world wars. The second large wave of Puerto Rican migrants during the 1950s and
1960s were mostly unskilled/rural which were displaced by the decline of U. S. export-oriented
agriculture on the Island (Grosfoguel, 2003:140). Unfortunately, though the Migration Division
established offices in New York and Chicago in order to help the migrants to find jobs (Lapp
1990); it was not able to guarantee or intervene on behalf of the workers when their civil rights
were violated. Furthermore, Puerto Rican migrants were "subj ected to extremely negative
discriminatory public opinion [as well] overcrowded and dilapidated housing, a lack of
institutional support for education, and poor medical services" (Grosfoguel, 2003:140). Hence, it
can be argued that these factors have contributed to their socio-economic marginalization in
The Puerto Rican migration to the mainland, as it was discussed, has been varied starting
with the move of displaced farmers and farm laborers in the 1940s as well as students and other
professionals after the 1980s. Puerto Ricans migrating to the U.S. had to take the jobs available
to them regardless of their skills, and were considered a cheap labor force until the 1960s' civil
and labor rights movement made them somehow unaffordable to manufacturing companies due
to their citizenship status and the rights entitled to them as such. Furthermore, the restructuring
policies within the U. S., the de-industrialization of maj or cities with high concentrations of
Puerto Ricans, and the restructuring policies on the island, led to more unemployment and their
subsequent migration from cities such as New York and, from the island itself, to other areas in
the American Mid-West.
With respect to circular migration, it was seen how there is an ongoing debate regarding
this issue; and though, some scholars have argued that these "dual home bases" and "mobile
livelihoods practices" provide a "flexible survival strategy" used by Puerto Ricans in response to
their declining livelihoods and their poor living conditions; other scholars believe that these
processes hinder their participation in labor market and it disrupts families. Nonetheless, the
ethnographic study performed by Gina M. Perez (2004) has shed light in how while many Puerto
Ricans engage in circular migration in search of ways to improve their lives; and at the same
time, it can also inhibit them from being able to advance in their current j obs and it does disrupt
families as the children and the women have to adapt and learn "traditional Puerto Rican cultural
values" in order to be accepted in the community.
The lack of programs tailored to help those who first migrated to successfully incorporate
into the American economy, as well as racial segregation and limited affordable housing, has
perpetuated their marginalization in this society. This claim is better exemplified by Antonio
Pantoj a statement gathered in a February 2000 newspaper interview,
The underlying problem is indifference by both government and the public, including
economically comfortable Puerto Ricans, to a society where children are not taught by
the schools they attend, families do not have decent housing to live in, where the color of
your skin will keep you out of the services and resources all citizens are entitled to.
(Navarro 2000) (c.f. Santiago-Valles and Jimenez-Mufioz, 2004:108).
This research will continue to study how this socio-economic marginalization has had a
negative impact on this group's ability to achieve upward mobility. In addition, it will look at
how Puerto Ricans define and negotiate their identities vis-a-vis African-Americans and
Mexicans as well as the relationship of both tension and cooperation among them.
1 Data compiled by researchers at the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and
Regional Research at the State University of New York at Albany, based on pooled estimates
from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey (March 1998, March 2000); (cf.
2 Except Dominicans, whose unemployment rates and poverty levels surpass the Puerto Ricans'.
3 History Task Force 1979; Sanchez-Korrol 1994 (cf. Gina M. Perez, 2004:10).
4 Melendez 1993, 15-17 (cf. Gina M. Perez, 2004: 10).
SAlicea (1990) writes that many Puerto Rican migrants create dual home bases on the island and
the mainland, a process that allows them to 'maintain social and psychological anchors in both
the United States and Puerto Rico' and belong simultaneously to several dwellings (14). See
also C. Rodrigues 1993; Melendez 1993b; and Ortiz 1993.
6 Duany, 2002:235 (cf. Perez, 2004:12).
STienda and Diaz 1986; Chavez 1991 (cf. Perez, 2004:12)
DEFINING AND NEGOTIATING PUERTO RICAN IDENTITY
This chapter does not attempt to define Puerto Rican identity in absolute terms, but it
seeks to achieve a better understanding of how Puerto Ricans develop such an identity on both
the island and the mainland and how this identity is renegotiated as Puerto Ricans interact with
other minorities and are incorporated into the American mainstream. Furthermore, this research
is limited for it cannot extensively explore racial dynamics among this population; yet, it will
engage in an effort to understand how these racial dynamics play a role in how Puerto Ricans
ultimately define themselves.
According to Puerto Rican national discourse, Puerto Rican culture has three historical
roots: the Taino Indian, the African, and the Spanish (Duany, 1998 and 2002; Ramos-Zayas,
2003). These three roots and the product of their mestizaje have contributed to the formation of a
national identity. Nonetheless, the degree in which Puerto Ricans choose to what root their
mestizaje comes from depends highly in the way they are racialized on the island and on the
United States mainland, as well as how they prefer to identify themselves. As a result, it is
observed that some Puerto Ricans will claim to be more Spanish than Taino or black and vice
versa. Furthermore, as it will be observed, Puerto Rican national discourse has exalted its
Spanish heritage and simultaneously glorified their Taino ancestry at the expense of their African
legacy as part of a political and racial discourse that helps them differentiate themselves from
African-Americans as well as other Latino groups.
The racial component of Puerto-Ricanness thus emphasizes those elements from the
Taino Indian, African, and Spanish heritage that are "most closely associated with anti-colonial
resistance." This anti-colonial resistance discourse is thus articulated in different ways. During
the Puerto Rican struggles against the Spanish rule, they emphasized their Taino heritage and
while in Chicago, popular education programs and nationalist activists persisted on stressing
those characteristics of "the triad" which were considered to represent resistance (Ramos-Zayas,
2003:197). These practices can be observed in the ways in which Puerto Ricans have
acknowledge their African ancestry during the Civil Rights movement as well as embracing their
Spanish heritage in contrast to the white American "other."
Whereas on the island whiteness implies having "more Spanish Blood," in the diaspora it
is used to portray members of the dominant American society, los blan2cos (Ramos-Zayas,
2003:200). What is observed therefore is that on the island coalitions between popular and elite
sectors "required that a large mulatto popular class evoke a racial discourse that valorized
whiteness and thus reinforced dominant racial hierarchies" (Guerra, 1998:213; cf. Ramos-Zayas,
2003:200). As a result, Puerto Ricans in the United States "perceived valorizing whiteness as
evidence of acceptance of the U. S. classification scheme," while they simultaneously
acknowledge their inability to break into the power granted to whiteness from the "standpoint of
racialized subj ects" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:200).
The United States popular constructions of class differ from those present in Puerto Rico
for it is race, not class, which is the "key component of popular consciousness." Consequently,
Arlene Torres (1998) argues that even as people are categorized by phenotype, ancestry, class,
and status, the acceptance of blacks is shaped by "cultural lightning" (296). This cultural
lightning is not necessarily determined by the color of an individual's skin, but by their success
in leaving behind social and cultural markers, which are related to blackness and are thus thought
to be negative. The assumption therefore is that upward mobility cannot be attained if
individuals retain a black identity for there exist "negative cultural ascriptions associated with
blackness" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:.201).
The process in which this cultural identity is formed is historical as seen by the division
of classes in colonial Puerto Rico, in which the creole class was oppressed by the Imperial power
exerted by Spain, and in turn was "oppressing one other social class in Puerto Rico, the class
made up of slaves, until their emancipation in 1873, of landless laborers, and of small craftsmen"
(Gonzalez, 1993: 8). In Puerto Rico, as for much of Latin America, the construction of race is
closely related to class and as such, class tends to "whiten" individuals as they rise up the class
Grosfoguel and Georas (2002) also argue that Puerto Ricans need to be seen as a
"category colonial/racial subj ects of empire rather than simply racial subj ects [for] racial
categories are built in relation to colonial histories and they need to be looked at together" (155).
What they argue is that focusing on the person's color does not "address the fact that, although
diverse colonized groups may be phenotypically undistinguishable from dominant colonizer
groups they can nevertheless be racialized as inferior to others in a colonial situation." This
situation is exemplified by the relationship between the Irish within the British Empire as well as
white Puerto Ricans in the U.S. mainland (155). This condition is furthered illustrated by Jose
Luis Grosfoguel (2003) in which "no matter how 'blond and blue eyed' a person may be, or
whether she or he can 'pass,' the moment that person identifies herself or himself as Puerto
Rican, she or he enters the labyrinth of racial Otherness." As a result, Puerto Ricans of all colors
have become a "racialized group in the social imaginary of Euro-Americans, marked by racist
stereotypes such as laziness, violence, criminal behavior, stupidity and dirtiness" (165). In order
to understand how Puerto Ricans navigate the "labyrinth of racial otherness," the following
section of this chapter will discuss how some Puerto Ricans have chosen to exalt their Taino
ancestry as a way to create an identity of their own and further differentiate themselves from
African-Americans in the American white/black social imaginary.
The Taino Revival and Displacement of the African Ancestry
The Taino were "the pre-Columbian indigenous population that once inhabited the
Caribbean, but are now largely presumed to be extinct since the 18th century" (Davila, 1997-
1998: 33). Historically, during and after Puerto Rico's struggle for separation from Spanish rule,
the Taino were "the only non-transplanted population on the island" and as such it became a
channel of "patriotic devotion and a tool to affirm a legitimate and continuous connection to the
soil by the Creole 'Puerto Rican' elite visad vis the Spanish colonial authorities" (37). Moreover,
this preference of exalting the Taino past of the island was also due to how this population was
"viewed as a noble and generous legacy" (3 8) in contrast to how African heritage was seen as
backwards and less gracious though they have contributed greatly to Puerto Rican culture.
Jorge Duany (1998) argues that until the mid-twentieth century, anthropologist often
characterized the "Tainos as an 'inferior race,' compared to Europeans, but superior to Africans"
(65). Furthermore, anthropologists, archaeologists, and historians "explicitly compared Tainos
and Africans," consistently coming to the conclusion that the "Indians were physically more
attractive, intellectually more capable, and culturally more developed than blacks" (65).
Nevertheless, as Puerto Rico changed "colonial masters" in 1898, from being Spanish territory to
becoming a commonwealth of the United States, the "nationalist first turned to Spanish, not
indigenous culture, as a form of resistance and affirmation against Americanization" (56).
The term Taino came into widespread use during the early decades of the twentieth
century, when academics such as Antonio Bachiller y Morales, Jesse Walter Fewkes, and M.R.
Harrington used this phrase to refer to the whole indigenous population of the Western
Caribbean (Haslip-Viera, 2001:2). Later during the 1960s and early 1970s years of political
tumult and cultural change, many alienated Puerto Ricans and other Caribbean Latinos in the
Northeast and Middle West sought to reaffirm their identities in different ways. As a result, they
"changed their dietary habits, revitalized Latin music, invented new art forms, and studied
Caribbean history and culture" (Haslip-Viera, 2001:3). By the end of the 1980s, this movement
resulted in the creation of a number of Taino "tribes," "councils," and "associations" that
emerged at the grassroots level in different parts of the United States (3). These groups thus
became ways in which the de-franchised Puerto Ricans ad other Caribbean Latinos could
develop their own sense of identity within the United States.
Even though the Taino has also been utilized as a symbol of national identity in New
York and the Diaspora, this "role has been most of all directed at enhancing the status of a
minority group through the assertions of cultural distinctiveness" (Davila, 1997-1998: 40). In
particular, the Taino has been more directly associated to social movements and grassroots
activism in the United States than on the island, where the "Taino has had a long history of
appropriation by nationalist elites and cultural institutions" (40).
Though Arlene Davila (1997-1998) argues that "whereas on the island, the nationalist
discourse promotes that 'we are all Puerto Rican,' veiling the subordinate status of sectors of the
population according to race and limiting the recognition of distinct groups among Puerto
Ricans" in the Unites States, the discourse of multiculturalism has provided larger opportunities
to see the Taino culture as a distinct unit (41). In addition, I argue that the revival of Taino
identity in the mainland is another effort from the Puerto Rican community to differentiate itself
from African-Americans and assert an identity of its own to avoid bearing similar negative
This Taino revival is matched by an Afrocentrist movement found among Puerto Ricans
and other Latinos from the Caribbean who "tend[ed] to be persons of darker skin color who are
defined as 'mulatto,' 'black' or 'African' in appearance" (Haslip-Viera, 2001: 5). Nonetheless,
those Puerto Ricans who were aware of the contempt for African-Americans by American
society, were also aware of the African-Americans who not only sought to improve their lives
but also shared "the belief in the inferiority of Black people" (5). Puerto Ricans thus responded
to the discrimination against them by emphasizing "a cultural uniqueness that presumably
transcended racial concerns." For instance, as Puerto Ricans were subj ected to the
institutionalized racism of the United States, they "could -and often did- hold themselves apart
as being neither white nor black, neither oppressor nor oppressed" (Jimenez Roman, 1998:116).
However, this attitude became more problematic to maintain during the tumultuous 1960s and
early 1970s, "when calls to take a stance against the status quo were invariably phrased in racial
terms." Hence, considering that Puerto Ricans were seen as "people of color" in the black-white
imagery of American society, and as such, Puerto Ricans shared similar experiences of racial
discrimination; for those who were of noticeable African descent, encountering the Black Power
movement upheld a significant meaning (116) for it gave them an opportunity to break away
from the discrimination they were subj ected to and be entitled to civil rights and equal
In the debate about who were the first Puerto Ricans, Jose Luis Gonzalez (1993) argues
that by 1534 the island was so depopulated that there were hardly any people of Spanish descent,
there were only blacks, and it should be concluded that the first Puerto Ricans were actually
black (10). Gonzalez further argues that the Spanish ingredient to the formation of a popular
Puerto Rican culture "must have taken the form of agricultural laborers, mostly from the Canary
Islands, imported to the island when the descendants of the first African slaves had already
become black Puerto Ricans" (Gonzalez, 1993:10). For this reason, Gonzalez claims that the first
Puerto Ricans were in fact black (10). What he is claiming is that "it was the blacks, the people
bound most closely to the territory which they inhabited... who had the greatest difficulty in
imagining any other place to live" (10). He also explains that the black population was the "first
to feel Puerto Rico as their true home and because they had no roots in or loyalty to Spain,
Corsica, the Balearic Islands, or indeed anywhere else" (39).
Gonzalez' assertions that the first Puerto Ricans were indeed black bring into the
academia two important arguments. First, that it is plausible to consider that the first Puerto
Ricans were black as they constituted the maj ority of the population during the early colonial
period and their allegiance belonged to Puerto Rico as opposed to anywhere else. Secondly,
though the African contributions to Puerto Rican culture are extensive, this "black ingredient" to
Puerto Rican national identity is often omitted in favor for an exaltation of the Spanish heritage
and an, almost mythological, emphasis on the Taino ancestry.
Nonetheless, because Puerto Rican migrants constituted a large numbers of mulattos,
black, and mestizos, they were initially mistaken in the "white social imaginary" for African-
Americans due to the "social construction of racial categories in the United States, where having
'one drop of black blood' is enough to be classified as 'black'" (Grosfoguel, 2003:164).
Ironically, accepting their African historical heritage, they found common ground in the United
States to participate in the civil rights movements along African-American leaders in an attempt
to improve their socio-economic status by challenging the status quo.
Puerto Rican Identity formation in Chicago
Puerto Ricans in Chicago challenged their racialization as black in the U.S. black-white
dichotomy as well as their identity as Latino by "creating an alternative nationalist identity that
emphasized cultural and political distinctiveness while securing social autonomy and citizenship
rights." In order to achieve this, "they utilized historical narratives and nationalist symbols to
rej ect dominant racialization practices while alternately obliterating and exacerbating internal
racial divisions on behalf of Puerto-Ricanness" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:36).
Similarly, in Chicago "cultural authenticity" entailed exhibits of "ethnic and natural
solidarity" such as participating in festivals and grassroots politics as well as living in the zones
marked as Puerto Rican. Their participation in "community-based proj ects and being
knowledgeable of Puerto Rican history and politics in the United States relied on being marked
as Puerto Rican and deploying this markedness for navigating the social margins" (Ramos-
Zayas, 2003:143). Nevertheless, defining Puerto Ricanness is often contradictory and ironical
among islanders and mainlanders for while mainland Puerto Ricans would "organize salsa
parties to promote unity between islanders and mainlanders along national lines, Puerto Ricans
from the island generally avoided those events in favor of parties with rock or Motown music"
(145). Furthermore, Puerto Rican writers and poets in the U.S. criticized the irony of
assimilation among Puerto Ricans; for while Puerto Ricans on the island maintained that Puerto
Ricans from the U. S. were assimilated, the islanders were the ones who "[ate] McDonald' s in the
American discotheques" (Laviera 1981; author's translation)
In some of the interviews carried by Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas (2003), it is observed how
island Puerto Ricans questioned the authenticity of Chicago Puerto Ricans. For instance one of
her interviewees, Francisco Ruiz, an electrical engineer who worked for General Electric and
lived in the Chicago suburbs observed: "Some Puerto Ricans from here do not even speak
Spanish, or if they do, they speak a dialect, Spanglish. They don't even speak English well
either. They speak Black English, not the English we learn in high school in Puerto Rico or in
college" (Ramos-Zayas 2003:148). His comment clearly outlines the tensions often present
between Puerto Ricans from the island and the mainland when trying to define and Eind an
authentic Puerto Rican identity.
Similarly, "Chicago islander professionals tended to use islander and mainlander
distinctions to point differences in attitudes, behaviors, and lifestyles between themselves and
their U. S. coethnics" for they are aware of the discriminatory attitude toward Puerto Ricans in
the U.S (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:149). As a result, they have also "created alternative Puerto Rican
identities that continued to reproduce their dominant status, the one they experienced on the
island on the basis of their social privilege" (149). What it is observed then, is how this Chicago
islander elite has used what they see as their class status in the island to avoid bearing the same
discrimination that mainland Puerto Ricans face as they are socio-economically marginalized
along with African-Americans.
Puerto Ricans in Chicago have also reacted negatively to the term Nuyorican. For
example, they first declared that the term did not apply to them, and secondly, they defined their
status in contrast to the Nuyorican "Other" specifically by focusing on "class identity and
racialization process that saturate the term on the island." As Edna Acosta-Belen (1992)
explains, Nuyorican, or Neorican --a hybrid of "New York" and "Puerto Rican," or "new Puerto
Rican" initially had negative connotations, especially as it was used on the island. When the
term was first starting to be used, it suggested a "cultural impurity that the island elite attributed
to uneducated younger generations of Puerto Ricans from 'El Bronx,' a racialized space" (980).
Moreover, Nuyurican was the first terms to articulate the distinctions between Puerto Ricans
from the island and the mainland.
The term or word Nuyorican entails a "double marginality" founded on both class and
blackness. As a result Nuyoricans are often described as "dark, young, and displaying
mannerisms and dress styles that some Puerto Ricans on the island associate with black youth in
the United States" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:33). Being Nuyorican in many ways exemplifies the
ways in which second and third generations renegotiate their Puerto Ricanness visad vis the
islanders, for they identify themselves as Puerto Ricans in every sense of the word; even though,
their interactions with the African American community has shaped other cultural markers such
as language, dress, and the way they carry themselves.
With respect to Chicago's Puerto Rican barrio, the "public perception of physical
encroachment, displacement, and gentrification reshaped national identities by inducing a
popular nationalism that conflated cultural and political modalities." Hence, this conflationn" led
to the portrayal of a Puerto Rican citizenship identity that was not incompatible with separatist
nationalism, but in fact contributed to the "negotiations of boundaries in relation to other Latinos,
African-Americans, and whites" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:36)
Interestingly, this nationalist discourse employed by Puerto Rican activists, while
differentiating itself from African-Americans, also "selectively" incorporated and emphasized
blackness in order to achieve three main goals. First, blackness was related to the struggle of
African-American civil rights leaders, "many of whom held nationalist views, rather than solely
with an ahistorical African heritage root or folklore."l Secondly, the activists explicitly
acknowledge that Puerto Ricans were "racialized as black or similar to black by dominant
society and other Latinos alike" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003: 199). Finally, Puerto Rican blackness
"could be negotiated as different from African-American blackness." Emphasizing this
distinction between how Puerto Ricans see themselves and how a "dominant other" sees them
further fueled the growth of a Puerto Rican nationalism in Chicago. The racialization of most
Puerto Ricans as "proxies for blacks in the bipolar racial system of the United States, the
nationalist claimed, is another attempt by dominant society to oppress Puerto Ricans as it
oppresses African-Americans" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003: 199).
For Chicago Puerto Ricans, "resistance entails not only a reconfiguration of the racial
ideology of mestizaje, but also a recognition that the embodiment of Puerto Rican Creole culture,
the jibaro, is a militant black, rather than the passive white peasant of Puerto Rican national
imaginary" (Torres, 1998; cf. Ramos-Zayas, 2003:200). The fusion of jibaro and negro in
Puerto Rico modifies how race has been "essentialized in racial categories in the Puerto Rican
cultural imaginary;" thus, this union corresponds to a movement towards blackness (Torres,
1998:295-95). Consequently, the jibaro is no longer constituted a white-skinned peasant, but
rather he is a jibaro negro. In Chicago, as this movement became nationalized; "Puerto Rican
blackness was not to be conflated with A~frican American blackness" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:201)
Despite these common grounds found with the African-American community, Puerto
Ricans in Chicago have the highest segregation rates in relation to both white and African-
Americans of all Puerto Ricans in the United States (Massey and Bitterman 1985; Massey and
Denton 1989). The predominantly Latino neighborhoods throughout the city occupy the
"interstitial zones" between African-American neighborhoods and diminishing white working
class communities (De Genova 1998). The Puerto Rican community has traditionally been
located in the area encompassed by the three adj acent Northwest Side neighborhoods of
Humboldt Park, West Town, and Logan Square, and the heart of the Mexican community,
especially Pilsen and La Villita [Little Village], which is on the Southwest side of Chicago. On
the other hand, the African American community is largely concentrated in the West and South
parts of the city (Ramos-Zayas, 2003: 209).
Puerto Ricans are the only racialized group that has resisted a hyphenated identity
(Grosfoguel, 2003). In some ways this resistance is partly associated to their "resistance against
being fully assimilated in a society that marginalizes and racializes" them. The discrimination
they face "reinforces a feeling of belonging to, and an idealization of, the imagined place of
origin" (Grosfoguel, 2003: 141). Furthermore, this feeling becomes more "pronounced" with the
continuous circulation of Puerto Ricans from and to the island thanks to the lack of border
restrictions. As a result, many second-, third-, and even fourth-generation Puerto Ricans in the
United States preserve a "feeling of belonging to the Puerto Rican 'imagined community,' even
if they have never visited the island (141).
However, though Puerto Ricans in the mainland continue to construct their identity as
Puerto Rican, they face challenges of becoming a "cultural hybridity" in the United States which
is "not tolerated not only by nationalist intellectuals on the island but also by Puerto Rican
middle classes" (Grosfoguel, 2003:142). This intolerance is shown by the prejudice against
"nuyoricans" and, how this population in return, "questions some of the racist and elitist
representations of Puerto Rican identity on the island" (142). The cultural hybridity of the
Puerto Ricans in the United States represents a form of identity that includes elements of
African-American culture which "threatens island elite's efforts to conceal their African heritage
while privileging the Spanish culture" (142).
As it was observed Puerto Rican identity and national discourse is founded around three
historical roots: the Taino Indian, the African, and the Spanish and the subsequent mestizaje
process undergone among these populations. Moreover, we learn that Puerto Ricans at different
times choose what root to emphasize to navigate the racial discourse in both the U.S. and the
island, and that those roots have also served as a form of resistance. Hence, they have exalted
their Taino past against the Spanish colonial rule, then exalted their Spanish blood to resist
American imperialism; and later would recognize their African ingredient to find allegiance
during the civil rights movement.
Though Puerto Ricans in the mainland continue to construct their identity as Puerto
Rican, they face challenges of becoming a "cultural hybridity" in the United States which is "not
tolerated not only by nationalist intellectuals on the island but also by Puerto Rican middle
classes" (Grosfoguel, 2003:142). This intolerance is shown by the prejudice against
"nuyoricans" and how this population in return "questions some of the racist and elitist
representations of Puerto Rican identity on the island" (142). The cultural hybridity of the
Puerto Ricans in the United States represents a form of identity that includes elements of
African-American culture which while maintaining an identity of its own.
In addition, Ram6n Grosfoguel (2003) argues that there exists "heterogeneous ways" of
being Puerto Rican that are not limited by the use of a common language, or a "common
anything for that matter" (142). His study shows that many middle-class Spanish-Speaking
Puerto Ricans on the island are more assimilated to American "white middle-class cultural
practices with their suburban houses, cable TV, racist representations of Puerto Rican identity
and mass consumption of fancy shopping centers than many non-Spanish-speaking Puerto
Ricans in the United States living segregated in urban ghettos" (142).2 His findings are
important for it reminds scholars that we cannot possibly define Puerto Rican identity in absolute
terms and even though the core culture of what it means to be Puerto Rican remains and it is
transmitted from one generation to another, this identity is always evolving and being negotiated
in their daily lives. Interestingly for mainlanders to be Puerto Rican is not only about choosing a
color in the black-white racial dichotomy in the U.S., but it has become a race in itself.
Furthermore, as it was discussed throughout the chapter, by asserting their Puerto Rican
identity, Puerto Ricans on the mainland attempt to first, differentiate themselves from African-
Americans to avoid carrying similar stigmas of oppression and prejudice; and secondly, it
provides a sense of belonging as they are viewed as "the other" in the American social imaginary
and as such they are rej ected even though they are fellow American citizens.
SInterestingly, in Puerto Rico, blackness is displaced onto specific marginal populations, like
Dominicans or Puerto Rican return migrants, rather than deployed as inherent to Puerto
Ricanness (cf. (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:.261).
2 See Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas (2003) study pages 147-152.
PUERTO RICAN CHICAGO
Puerto Rican migration to the city of Chicago during the 1930s and 1940s was
encouraged by the de-industrialization of manufacturing in cities such as New York as well as by
the United State's Operation Bootstrap in the 1950s, an effort to industrialize Puerto Rico by
giving American companies incentives (such as generous tax breaks, free land, and low interest
loans) to move their operations to the island (Cruz, 2004: 9). However, this operation failed to
create enough jobs for the growing Puerto Rican population; therefore, promoting immigration to
Chicago and other cities in the search for employment opportunities in the steel mills, factories,
and other manufacturing companies (9).
This migration wave had been facilitated by the Jones Act of 1917 which gave U.S.
citizenship to all island-born and U.S. mainland-born Puerto Ricans. In addition, in the
beginning of 1946 a private Chicago-based employment agency, Castle, Barton and Associates,
recruited Puerto Rican men to work as unskilled foundry laborers and Puerto Rican women to be
employed as domestic workers in Chicago and surrounding suburbs such as Waukegan (Edwin
1979; Padilla 1947; Padilla 1987). These early migrants moved into different neighborhoods
such as Woodlawn, the Near North Side, Lake View, Lincoln Park, Uptown, West Garfield Park,
East Garfield Park, and the Near West Side. However, by the 1960s most Chicago Puerto Ricans
were concentrated in Lincoln Park, West Town, and Humboldt Park and shared these
neighborhoods with Mexican and Polish immigrants as well as African Americans (Padilla
1987). Map 4-1 illustrates the primary and secondary Puerto Rican communities in the 1960s
before undergoing gentrification.
Even though Puerto Ricans were recruited to work in manufacturing industries, most of
their immigration took place during the "historical period when the traditional unskilled and
semiskilled jobs, which had represented the initial step of integration to the American
institutional life for a large numbers of European immigrants, were in steady decline as maj or
economic activities in many cities and were being replaced with white-collar and professional
jobs" (Padilla, 1985:43). As a consequence, for Puerto Ricans in Chicago the decrease of
employment opportunities in these kinds of factories led to their "concentration in non-industrial,
poorly paid, menial, dead-end jobs" (43). For instance, Elena Padilla' s (1947) study "Puerto
Rican Immigrants in New York and Chicago: A Study in Comparative Assimilation" of the first
group of Puerto Rican immigrants to Chicago in the 1940s, shows how many of the newcomers
found employment in the restaurant business as busboys, sweepers, kitchen help, waiters, as
messenger and delivery men in stockrooms and packaging areas of many stores, and as j anitors
(cf. Padilla, 1985: 43).
The U.S. Census of Population corroborates that during the 1960s and 1970s, most
Puerto Ricans worked in the industrial sector of the city (Toro-Morn, 2001:27). Changes in the
global economy during the 1980s, however, caused many factories to close their businesses and
move overseas to more profitable places in the Caribbean and Central America. Ironically, Toro-
Morn (2001) argues, these "industries closed their operations in Chicago to open plants in Puerto
Rico, thus further cementing the links between Chicago and Puerto Rico" (21). Many Puerto
Rican families were laid-off and many of them "were not able to recover economically and
slipped into poverty, a problem that hit the Puerto Rican community hard in the 1980s" (Toro-
The effects that the relocation of manufacturing factories had on the Puerto Rican
community are further discussed in Martha Tienda' s article "Puerto Ricans and the Underclass
Debate" (1989). In this article, she argues that "structural factors, namely, rapidly falling
employment opportunities in jobs where Puerto Ricans traditionally have worked and the
concentration of Puerto Ricans in areas experiencing severe economic dislocation, are largely
responsible for their disproportionate impoverishment" in comparison to Cubans and Mexicans
(Tienda, 1989:107). Furthermore, her case study shows that the "weakened labor market
position of Puerto Ricans and their consequent impoverishment have roots in their placement at
the bottom of an ethnic hiring queue coupled with residential concentration in a region that
experienced severe economic decline and industrial restructuring after 1970" (Tienda, 1989:107).
Martha Tienda uses Stanley Lieberson's claims that a "discriminatory hiring queue
results when employers activate their prejudices and preferentially hire workers on the basis of
ethnic traits rather than market skills" as a way for explaining the growing inequality among
Hispanic workers. For example, she states that Mexicans have been "preferred workers in
agricultural jobs at least since the mid-1800s" (as opposed to Puerto Ricans who have been
actively recruited in manufacturing companies) (108). For Tienda, though the "incomes of
agricultural workers are low compared with those in other low-skilled jobs, when evaluated
against the alternative of unemployment or nonparticipation in the labor force, agricultural work
is preferable because it at least ensures some earnings" (108). As a result, the "massive
industrial restructuring of the Northeast" led to the disappearance of many unskilled and
unionized jobs, which in return has "dimmed the employment prospects of all Puerto Ricans"
(108). This analysis is interesting and helpful in understanding why Puerto Ricans economic
performance lags behind other minority groups for it draws a contrast between the jobs they have
traditionally performed, the lack of those j ob opportunities due to de-industrialization of
manufacturers, their subsequent unemployment, and the situation experienced by other
minorities groups such as the Mexicans. For instance, her study shows how Mexicans, whom are
employed in other sectors of the economy which have proven to be more stable (i.e. agriculture),
have been able to achieve economic security despite the low-wages earned in such industries, but
that are in return preferable than no wages at all.
Gentrification and its Effect on the Puerto Rican Population of Chicago
By the late 1960s, gentrification in Lincoln Park, an attractive neighborhood near
Chicago's North Side lakefront "became desirable to developers and young, white middle-class
professionals" (Cruz, 2004:9). This displacement was furthered encouraged as De Paul
University, McCormick Seminary, and large hospitals began to develop in this area during the
1960s (Aspira 1996; Padilla 1987). The subsequent rise in property taxes and the creation of
"expensive new homes [then] forced thousands of Puerto Ricans to move from the up-scale
Lincoln Park to more affordable, working-class neighborhoods" (Cruz, 2004:9).
In addition, the renewal proj ects undertaken during the 1960s and 1970s through the
Chicago 21 Plan in order to transform the downtown area into "a regional, national and global
business district" further contributed to the dislocation of Puerto Ricans (Betancur et al, 1991;
Perez 2000). These renewal proj ects seeking to rehabilitate this area through the development of
more profitable businesses and encouraging white-middle class professionals to move into this
neighborhood, thus created "buffer zones" to protect the downtown area from the low income
communities around it, causing the displacement of low-income Latino, African-American, and
white residents (Betancur et al, 1991; Perez 2000). These buffer zones became areas
economically developed in which Puerto Ricans and other low income groups had no access to
because they could no longer afford the increasing property values. Puerto Ricans were also
forced to move out of the Near West Side neighborhood along Harrison Street to make way for
the University of Illinois at Chicago Campus (Suttles, 1968). As a result, Puerto Ricans moved
into West Town and Humboldt Park, creating Chicago's first Puerto Rican barrio.
In the late 1990s, a new wave of redevelopment hit the city encouraged by Mayor
Richard M. Daley's initiative to attract affluent whites back into the city (Flores-Gonzalez,
2001). Nonetheless, this program and the subsequent arrival of middle- and upper-class whites
preoccupied community residents "who remembered how the rapid influx of affluent whites to
Lincoln Park and Wicker Park preceded and precipitated the displacement of Puerto Ricans from
these areas" (Flores-Gonzalez, 2001: 10). For Puerto Ricans, whose income is considerably
lower than that of white-middle class professionals, the movement of this white population into
their neighborhoods is preoccupying. For instance, the influx of affluent whites does not only
threatens the Puerto Ricans sense of community, cultural values and lifestyle, but it also
translates into higher property values that they will not be able to afford.
Census data from the 1990s supports the rapid pace in which gentrification of the Puerto
Rican community in Chicago took place during this time. According, to Nilda Flores-Gonzalez
(2001), West Town experienced a loss of 24.7% of its Latino population while the white rate
increased by 7%in the last decade. In 1990, there were 54,361 Latinos in West Town,
constituting 62% of the residents. By 2000, their numbers decreased to 40,920 or 46.8% of the
population. This constituted a loss of 13,441 Latino residents in West Town. The number of
white residents increased from 44,728 to 50,887 for a total gain of 6,159 white residents from
51% to 58.8 % while the black population remained stable with a 0.1% decrease (Flores-
Gonzalez, 2001: 12). These statistics do not only illustrate the rapid increase of the white
population in Puerto Rican neighborhoods, but also shows prove that the fears of this community
are well founded for the moving of professional middle-class whites into traditionally Puerto
Rican areas have historically led to the displacement of the latter group.
On the other hand, Humboldt Park "experienced a very small increase in Latino
population (6.3%, probably in part absorbing those leaving West Town)" (Flores-Gonzalez,
2001: 13). Nevertheless, the communities to the north and northwest of Humboldt Park radically
gained a large number of Latinos. For instance, the percentage of Latino residents in Hermosa,
Avondale, and Belmont Cragin increased by 41.6%, 99.6%, and 198.1%, respectively (13). For
Flores-Gonzalez (2001), although the statistics presented above do not specify that all Latinos
moving to this area are Puerto Ricans, "this trend supported] community residents assessment
that Puerto Ricans [were] moving west" into other neighborhoods such as Hermosa, Avondale,
and Belmont Cragin (Flores-Gonzalez: 2001, 13).
Statistics taken in 2000 by the U. S. Bureau of the Census for the City of Chicago
illustrate the displacement suffered by the Puerto Rican population from Lincoln Park and Near
West Side between the 1960s, where the population was highly concentrated in this area, to the
1990s, where new renewal programs further diminished their presence in these neighborhoods.
In Lincoln Park the white population in 2000 was estimated to be 84.47% while African-
Americans constituted 5.31% and Hispanic 5.00%.2 Similarly, the population of Hispanics in
Near West Side in this same year was 9.73%, the white population constituted 24.83% and,
interestingly, 52.95% of the population of this neighborhood was African-American. Facing
displacement, Puerto Rican residents then relocated to West Town and Humboldt Park. The
Census statistics from the year 2000, show the population of West Town to be 39.9 % white,
46.76% Hispanic and 9.32% African-Americans, while in Humboldt Park 3.15% are white,
48.01% are Hispanic and 46.6% are African-American. The statistics for both West Town and
Humboldt Park further show evidence of how whites are moving to these areas by how the
percent of the white population is close to that of Hispanics.
Map 4-1 presents the location of Logan Square, Humboldt Park, and West Town. These
areas have been traditionally considered Puerto Rican Chicago although Puerto Ricans have
continuously moved to other northwestern urban and suburban areas in and around Chicago
because of gentrification.3
While the Puerto Rican community have traditionally settled in Humboldt Park, West
Town, and Logan Square, the Mexican community originally settled in maj or areas where they
newcomers found employment: (1) South Chicago (steel), (2) Back of the Yards (packing
houses), and (3) Near West Side (railroad) (Padilla, 1987). Today, the Mexican community is
generally concentrated in the Pilsen area, which initially developed as a "seasonal stop-over for
migrating Mexican families working in the Michigan Beet fields" (Walton and Salces, 1977: 17)
and La Villita [Little Village] on the Southwest Side. Map 4-2 shows the distribution of these
Mexican community settlements in the 1960s. Nonetheless, what were traditional Mexican
communities in the 1960s; i.e. the Near West Side and South of Chicago, statistics of the 2000
U.S. Census show that these areas have larger African-American communities, representing
52.95% and 67.63% respectively of the total population in these neighborhoods.
The concentration of Mexicans in the neighborhoods of Pilsen and La Villita has been
noticed by Puerto Rican residents in Humboldt Park, who have recognized "folkloric markers" in
these neighborhoods that they associate with the Mexican culture and thus have been able to
identify and define these areas as Mexican (Ramos-Zaya, 2003:212). Even though these
"folkloric markers" seem to provide a way to enclose the Mexican population's presence into
certain neighborhoods; however, De Genova (1998) argues, that Mexican migrants in Chicago
cannot be "enclosed within a homogenous space of cultural isolation" for they also share living
spaces with Puerto Ricans, African-Americans and whites in other neighborhoods despite the
fact that Pilsen or La Villita appear to be populated almost exclusively by Mexicans. This
observation is important for it illustrates in other ways the effects of gentrification. For instance,
it is observed that those neighborhoods, which could be in the past defined in terms of the
minority group living in them, can no longer be exclusively identified as entirely Mexican or
Puerto Rican. Hence, we cannot only acknowledge the movement of people across the border
(i.e. from Mexico or Puerto Rico), but there is also a movement across neighborhood limits as
families are displaced in search for better employment opportunities or more affordable housing.
As a result, through the statistical evidence provided early in this chapter we can observe how
the demographics have changed in neighborhoods that were traditionally considered Puerto
Rican or Mexican communities of settlement.
Chicago's Mexican population has also increased by nearly 40% in the 1980s alone, and
it is the second-largest concentration of Mexican/Chicano settlement in the United States
numbering well over half a million in the metropolitan area and over 15% population within the
city limits (De Genova 1998, 100). This large population's visibility and the Puerto Rican
community's need to both define the geographical limits of their own communities as well as the
spaces in which other minorities groups live, is achieved by locating cultural markers in specific
urban locations. Consequently, they are limiting what they considered to be areas of strong
Mexican heritage to areas like La Villita and Pilsen while emphasizing Humboldt Park' s Puerto-
Ricanness (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:212). The use of cultural markers by Puerto Ricans to identify
other non-Puerto Rican communities, thus seems as an attempt to define their own
neighborhoods visad vis the other in order to safeguard their own sense of community and
identity as well as maintaining cultural values which seem to be threatened by the presence of
other minority groups who may not understand or accept their cultural pride.
African-Americans, on the other hand, are largely concentrated in the West and South
Sides of the city and share common living spaces with Puerto Ricans and Mexicans alike
(Ramos-Zayas, 2003:209). According to the 2000 Census of the City of Chicago, African-
Americans constitute 67.63% of the South of Chicago, Hispanics 27.20% and whites 2.64%; and
in the Near West Side, African-Americans comprise 52.95% of the population, Hispanics 9.73%
and whites 24.83%3. Similarly, in the community of Uptown, African-Americans constitute
21.07% of the population, Hispanics 20.05% and whites 42.05%; and in the community of
Garfield Park, African-Americans comprise 97.75%, Hispanics 0.96% and whites 0.59% 4
In addition, in the Near North Side neighborhood, African-Americans are 18.90% of the
population while Hispanics are only 3.91% and 69.30% are whites, and in Woodland, African-
Americans are 94.07% of the population, Hispanics 1.14%, and whites 2.78%. These statistics
are significant for they illustrate the large number of African-Americans who reside in the same
communities with Hispanics in areas that were traditionally considered Puerto Rican or Mexican
in the 1960s. These communities include Garfield Park, Near West Side, South Chicago and
Near North side. Furthermore, these population figures and changes illustrate how white middle-
class professionals displaced Puerto Ricans and Mexicans, as well as African- Americans who
sought affordable housing and employment opportunities. The statistics presented thus illustrate
that the historical arrival of middle-class white professionals into these neighborhood between
the 1960s and 1990s have changed the demographical composition of these neighborhoods and
thus represent the displacement suffered by the Puerto Rican population.
Division Street/ Paseo Boricua
Following the gentrification, community organizations and business leaders founded the
Humboldt Park Empowerment Partnership (HPEP) "out of concern for the impending
displacement of the Puerto Rican community and previous attacks on service-oriented
organizations" (Lyndersen 2000). In addition, Puerto Rican leaders developed the Humboldt
Park Empowerment Zone Strategic Plan in 1996 as an "economic initiative to develop various
commercial strips around the community, increase affordable housing, maintain the Puerto Rican
flavor of the community through the development of cultural landmarks" (Flores-Gonzalez,
2001: 13). This initiative from the Puerto Rican community resulted in the creation of Paseo
Boricua along Division Street as part of the redevelopment plan.
According to Ana Y. Ramos-Zayas (2003), nationalist activists and some barrio residents
explained gentrification in terms of the "invasion" of Puerto Rican space (211). The subsequent
development of a community building proj ect was referred to as la Islita [the little Island],
"suggesting that the barrio was a surrogate Puerto Rico" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:211). The issue at
hand for barrio activists meant that the "disappearance of the community" threatened theirs and
others jobs. For instance, Ramos-Zayas explains, it "was possible that workers at community-
based institutions, vendors who sold their wares from rolling carts, and owners of ethnic specific
businesses would not find a place in the institutions newly located in the barrio- fancy hospitals
and proliferating coffee shops that were not created for Puerto Ricans" (211-212). The potential
displacement of these types of ethnic-based employment generators, coupled with the
elimination of job opportunities in the industrial sector, limited the Puerto Rican community's
access to alternative forms of employment and further diminished their economic success.
Puerto Ricans were also aware that Chicago Mexican migrant workers satisfied the need
for cheap labor which was more easily exploited due to the workers "predicament of legal
vulnerability" (De Genova 1999). This legal vulnerability was represented by the undocumented
status of most Mexican workers in the United States. This is in contrast to Puerto Ricans'
citizenship status, providing them with legal rights to minimum wage and other government
While the tension with Mexicans was centered towards the latter' s group ability to
provide cheaper labor due to their undocumented status; with respect to African-Americans, the
hostility manifested by Puerto Ricans towards this group was articulated in other terms. Puerto
Rican residents "explained the growing hostility toward incoming African-American residents by
focusing on the tightening housing market and the diminishing commercial opportunities in the
barrio, for which they blamed blacks competition over rehabilitated neighborhood housing"
(Ramos-Zaya, 2003 229). These conditions further exacerbated racial tensions for Puerto Ricans
not only felt as if they had to differentiate themselves from the African-American population to
not bear the same type of negative stereotypes and stigmas, but they also had to compete with
them for the few available resources. Furthermore, by revisiting Chapter 3 of this research, it
can be better understood that these racial tensions are also founded in the Puerto Ricans own
prejudice against African-Americans and their belief in the inferiority of these people (Haslip-
Viera 2001). This condition is also observed by the Puerto Ricans exaltation of their Taino and
Spanish heritage while devaluating the African contribution to their culture in the process of
defining an authentic Puerto Rican identity. The previous statements are not meant to claim that
Puerto Ricans are racist, but that in the white social imaginary of the U. S. and the confinement of
Puerto Ricans to certain stereotypes associated with the African-American population, Puerto
Ricans have made an effort to differentiate themselves from this minority group by asserting a
cultural identity that is different from that of African-Americans in order to avoid the same
Some Puerto Rican activists' belief was that "blacks won't take as good care of the
Puerto Rican area as [they] would because they don't understand the symbols, struggles, and
they don't experience the cultural pride [that Puerto Ricans have]" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003:230).
Thus, part of the antagonism towards African-Americans came from the belief that because they
are not Puerto Rican, they will not protect and be considerate towards the neighborhood as
Puerto Ricans would and that their influx to their communities will be followed by a decrease in
the neighborhood's safety and sense of community. In addition, Puerto Ricans believed the
increasing presence of African-Americans would intensify the competition for low-paying j obs
and affordable housing (Ramos-Zayas 2003).
The increasing African-American population in the "westernmost section of the Puerto
Rican barrio" encouraged those residents and activists who were preoccupied by the growing
African-American population in their neighborhoods to develop new grassroots efforts to protect
the Puerto Rican community from imagined or tangible threats to their security and their sense of
community by establishing cultural markers that would identify the neighborhood as Puerto
Rican. Thus, as a response to these concerns, the unveiling of the flags on Division Street
"suggests most efforts evoked nationalist symbols and rhetoric" (Ramos-Zaya, 2003:230). The
establishment of the Puerto Rican flag arches, one of the proposed proj ects by area activists and
popular education centers, was thus significant for it served as a cultural marker of the area as
mainly Puerto Rican. Furthermore, other Puerto Rican symbols, -like Old San Juan garita~s
[Spanish fortress], Taino Indian hieroglyphics, and Afro-Caribbean vejigan2tes [festival masks
and costumes] "were inscribed on steel boards that hang from Spanish-style faroles [light
poles] along the sidewalks of Paseo Boricua" (Ramos-Zayas, 2003: 212) .
Ramon L6pez (1995), a Chicago-based artisan and anthropologist (cf. Ramos-Zayas,
2003:14), described what the two steel flags on Division Street meant for the "culturally
The flag is a monument with multiple meanings... It commemorates the 100th
anniversary of the Puerto Rican patriots who fought Spanish colonialism and declared
it the national flag... It also commemorates the nostalgia, the visible symbol of our
belonging to a territory that we always remember, always with the hope to return or
visit... It commemorates the tradition of images -the Three Kings day celebration,
coquis, vejigantes... -that accompanies us in a city that belongs to another climate and
whose rented walls we want to paint and ornament with our own footprint... It
commemorates the many times when Puerto Ricans filled the streets with the flag
during parades and protests... It commemorates all the times that we hung the flag
from our necks... It commemorates the blood shed in the history of that Island and in
the pavement of this street" (L6pez, 1995:20)
L6pez (1995) concluded, "here in Chicago the flag is panted in the most total sense: to
reclaim space, to mark a point, to announce that our presence is much more than a transitory
passage, that we have made history in Chicago and that we are going to continue making it" (21).
The flag monument thus represented "the oppositional resistance discourse that emerged when
the validity of dominant norms was questioned from the perspective of an everyday practice that
challenged belief in the depoliticized nature of the steering mechanisms of law, bureaucracy, and
consumerism" (Franco, Yutdice, and Flores 1992; cf. Ramos-Zayas, 2003: 216). For Puerto
Ricans this flag monument articulates a discourse of historical and political resistance in which
they have defied both cultural norms which have bounded them to a second-class citizen status
due to their ethnicity and the prejudice they have suffered as such, and it also serves as a
statement that makes their presence in the city Chicago tangible and which needs to be
The location of these steel flags on Division Street, and the marking of this area as Puerto
Rican, was historic for the creation of the Chicago Puerto Rican community because it is in this
area that Puerto Ricans have historically settled and where their resistance movements have been
born. Furthermore, Division Street has been the location for several cultural activities and
celebrations of national pride for Puerto Ricans. As one example, the annual Puerto Rican
Parade is celebrated every June, ending with a procession down Division Street. It was
originally celebrated as El Dia de San Juan (St. John's Day), an event organized by Los
Caballeros de San Juan (the Knights of St. John), one of the first Puerto Rican religious and
social organizations in Chicago (Padilla 1987).
This chapter discussed how the Puerto Rican migration to Chicago took place extensively
during the 1930s and 1940s, largely as a consequence of the de-industrialization of
manufacturing cities like New York. Further, the migration was encouraged by the United
State's Operation Bootstrap in the 1950s, when the U.S. sought to industrialize Puerto Rico by
giving American companies incentives to transfer their factories to the island. The Proj ect,
however, failed to provide enough jobs for the growing Puerto Rican population. In addition,
Puerto Rican migration wave was facilitated by the Jones Act of 1917 and the citizen status
granted to all island and mainland-born Puerto Ricans, and the active recruitment by private
Chicago-based employment agency such as Castle, Barton and Associates.
This chapter also addressed the issue of how Puerto Ricans migrated during a time in
which employment opportunities in the sectors of the economy where most of the population had
traditionally worked were decreasing. As discussed, many manufacturing companies chose to
move their operations overseas in search for cheaper labor. These changes, coupled with the
gentrification in neighborhoods where Puerto Ricans lived, created conditions which threatened
their livelihoods, as many Puerto Ricans were displaced in search of more affordable housing.
Furthermore, the displacement caused by gentrification hurt ethnic-based Puerto Rican shops,
because as African-Americans, whites, and other minorities moved into their neighborhoods, not
only did the demographics change, but so did the needs, therefore diminishing some of the
demand for these shops.
The effects of gentrification are corroborated by statistical evidence. Early Puerto Ricans
migrants had moved into different neighborhoods such as Woodlawn, the Near North Side, Lake
View, Lincoln Park, Uptown, West Garfield Park, East Garfield Park, and the Near West Side.
However, by the 1960s most Chicago Puerto Ricans were concentrated in Lincoln Park, West
Town, and Humboldt Park, and later in the 1990s, most Puerto Ricans were displaced from
Lincoln Park and are now mainly concentrated in Humboldt Park, West Town, and Logan
Square (Ramos-Zayas 2003). The effects of gentrification were also felt by Mexicans, who, in
the 1960s were concentrated in both Near West Side and South Chicago, but, by the 1990s had
left, as the population of these neighborhoods had become maj ority African-American.
In addition, it was observed how gentrification, the tightening housing market and the
decrease of job opportunities for Puerto Ricans exacerbated racial tensions between Puerto
Ricans and African Americans. Puerto Ricans became concerned with the influx of African-
Americans, fearing it would have a negative impact on the neighborhood's safety, and that it
would also diminish the Puerto Ricans sense of community. In response to these changes Puerto
Ricans worked in creating a physical space, what Ramos-Zayas (2003) has called a "surrogate
Puerto Rico" along Division Street, which in return serves as an identifiable cultural marker of
where the Puerto Rican community is present. The steel flags monument also articulates a
discourse of resistance in a city where Puerto Ricans have had a historical presence and where
they continue to struggle to both preserve their community and provide better lives for their
PUERTO RICAN COMMUNITIES OF SETTLEMENT IN THE 1960s2
Primary Puerto Rican
3. Lincoln Park
4. Near North Side
F;ecoandmyll Puerto Rican
6. Logan Square
7. West Gar~eld Park
8. East Garfield Park
9. Near West Side
Hnmboldt~ Par~k: W5est Town
*Division Street Area
2 Adapted from: Padilla, Felix M. 1985. Latino Ethnic Comsciousness: The Case ofi~exican Americans and Puerto
Ricans in (00 I,;..~ Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. p. 41.
MEXICAN COMMUNITIES OF SETTLEMENT IN THE 1960s3
2. Back of the Yards
3. Near West Side
4. South Chicago
3 Adapted from: Padilla, Felix M. 1985. Latino Ethnic Consciousness: The Case ofi~exican 4mericans and Puerto
Ricans in C 00,I~ ,;. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. p. 21
SSee Stanley Lieberson. 1980. A Piece of the Pie. Berkeley: University of California Press. (cf.
Tienda, Martha, 1989:108).
2 Though these statistic do not specify the percentage of Puerto Ricans within the Hispanic
population in this area, and considering that Lincoln Park was traditionally an area in which
Puerto Ricans were concentrated prior to 1960s, the effects of gentrification are observed by the
high percentage of the white population in this neighborhood in comparison to African
Americans and Hispanics.
3 Source: Ramos-Zayas, Ana Y. 2003. National Performa~nce: The Politics of Class, Race, and'
Space in Puerto Rican Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 45.
* The Map is Courtesy of the Department of Planning and Development, City of Chicago.
4 COnsider, in the 1960s, both Near West Side and South Chicago were Mexican community
5 Interestingly, in 1960s East and West Garfield Park were considered traditional Puerto Rican
community settlements and in the 2000 Census, the percentage of African Americans constitutes
almost the entire population of this are, while Hispanics and whites' population is minimal.
The purpose of this research was to address broadly the question of why Puerto Ricans
have been less successful to advance than other Latino groups or other minority groups in the
United States by understanding social and cultural characteristics of this group, as well the nature
of their migration and how certain structural and social factors (such as the employment market,
gentrification, their racialization in the U. S. white/black dichotomy, etc) have limited, if not
inhibited, their ability to advance in the American society.
It was thus observed how the first large wave of Puerto Rican migrants were
skilled/urban laborers arriving between 1900 and 1945 and during this period, they were actively
recruited as cheap labor for the manufacturing industries in New York City following the first
and second world wars. The second large wave of Puerto Rican migrants came during the 1950s
and 1960s and was mostly unskilled/rural workers, displaced by the decline of U. S. export-
oriented agriculture on the Island (Grosfoguel, 2003:140). Puerto Ricans upon migration to the
mainland were "subj ected to extremely negative discriminatory public opinion [as well as]
overcrowded and dilapidated housing, a lack of institutional support for education, and poor
medical services" (140).
In addition, Puerto Ricans migrating to the U. S. had to take the j obs available to them
regardless of their skills, and were considered a cheap labor force until the 1960s' civil and labor
rights movement made them "unaffordable" to manufacturing companies, namely because of
their citizenship status and the rights entitled to them because of citizenship. It was also
discussed how Puerto Ricans migrated during a time in which employment opportunities in jobs
where this population had traditionally worked were decreasing, as manufacturing companies
began to move their operations overseas in search for cheaper labor. These changes, coupled
with the gentrification process undertaken in neighborhoods in Chicago where Puerto Ricans
lived, created conditions which threatened their livelihoods as they were displaced in search of
more affordable housing. Furthermore, gentrification and the displacement of Puerto Ricans
threatened ethnic-based Puerto Rican shops that addressed community needs. As more African-
Americans, whites, and other minorities moved into traditional Puerto Rican neighborhoods, they
changed the nature of these shops and diminished the need for them.
It was also observed how gentrification, the tightening housing market and the decrease
of job opportunities for Puerto Ricans exacerbated racial tensions as Puerto Ricans increasingly
felt competition with African-Americans for the few resources available to them. Further, Puerto
Ricans became concerned that the influx of African-Americans would have a negative impact on
their neighborhood's safety and would affect their sense of community.
This research also discussed briefly how Puerto Rican migration to the mainland can be
argued to be circular in nature. Some scholars have claimed that "circular" practices allow for
the creation of "dual home bases" and "mobile livelihoods practices," providing a "flexible
survival strategy" for Puerto Ricans in response to their declining livelihoods and their poor
living conditions (Perez, 2004, Duany, 2002). On the other hand, scholars believe that these
processes hinder their participation in labor market, as well as inhibit employment advancement;
these processes also disrupt families, as children and women have to adapt and learn "traditional
Puerto Rican cultural values" in order to be accepted in the community (Perez, 2004).
Similarly, the lack of U. S. government-funded programs tailored to help those Puerto Ricans
who first migrated to successfully incorporate into the American economy, and the subsequent
racial segregation and limited affordable housing for Puerto Ricans, has perpetuated their
marginalization in this society.
As it was also observed, Puerto Rican identity and national discourse is founded around
three historical roots: the Taino Indian, the African, and the Spanish, and the subsequent
mestizaj e between these groups. Moreover, it was discussed how Puerto Ricans at different
times choose what root to emphasize to navigate the racial discourse in both the U.S. and on the
island, and that those roots have also served as a form of resistance. Hence, they have exalted
their Taino past against the Spanish colonial rule, then exalted their Spanish blood to resist
American imperialism, and later would recognize their African ancestry to find allegiance with
African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement. In addition, it was discussed that by
asserting their Puerto Rican identity, Puerto Ricans on the mainland attempt to first, differentiate
themselves from the African-Americans to avoid carrying similar stigmas of oppression and
prejudice; and secondly, asserting Puerto Rican identity provides a sense of belonging, as Puerto
Ricans are viewed as "the other" in the American social imaginary and as such they are rej ected
even though they are fellow American citizens.
Though the conclusions of this research are primarily based on qualitative data, by using
some statistical evidence it has been observed that Puerto Ricans are indeed trailing behind other
groups in certain areas such as employment, earnings, education, etc. Furthermore, the statistics
used on this research have also illustrated the displacement of Puerto Rican communities by
gentrification in the city of Chicago. In addition, these chapters utilize socio-cultural factors in
order to explain how structural and institutional restraints have affected the ability of Puerto
Ricans to achieve upward mobility. Thus, we can draw parallels between the characteristics of
the population which first migrated, their subsequent marginalization and discrimination as a
result of the prejudice present in a white/black dichotomous society, as well as economic
changes in the global economy which caused de-industrialization of maj or cities such as New
York and Chicago and caused unemployment among this population group.
The factors discussed earlier can thus be closely linked to their impoverishment, which in
return, causes Puerto Ricans to move to urban ghettos where opportunities for second and third
generations to have access to proper education are less than ideal. What is then observed is what
some anthropologists have called the cycle of poverty; in this context the marginalization
suffered by first migrants has been reproduced by later generations of Puerto Ricans and few
have been able to break away from such cycle.
In general, finding an answer to the question of why Puerto Ricans have been less successful
to advance than other Latino groups or other minority groups in the United States is not an easy
task and there are no absolute answers. As it was discussed there exists a variety of variables
that have contributed to the marginalization of this minority group in the U. S. and this research
has thus presented a link between social and institutional factors that can help explain the issue at
hand. Nonetheless, further quantitative research of this population specific to the area of
Chicago needs to be performed so that we can adequately and accurately compare Puerto Ricans
to other minority groups in this city and shed light on how statistical data, coupled with the
qualitative findings discussed in this research, can provide a better understanding of this
population, and their struggles, and perhaps identify what can be done in order to help them
achieve better livelihoods and succeed in American society.
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