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In the city of New York there was a strong Italian, Jewish, and Black presence but nothing along the same lines ever developed for the Puerto Rican community. The concerns of the Puerto Rican community failed to ever gain a political foothold in the city where nearly 90% of all migrated Puerto Ricans lived (Rodriquez-Morazzani, 1999).
As the vast wave of migrating Puerto Ricans began to reach middle age in the 60's and 70s they had still not achieved a standard of living that was remarkably improved from what they enjoyed when they first migrated to the United States. Their numbers had increased significantly as migration had continued and their birthrates had skyrocketed but the typical Puerto Rican family still made far less than the typical White American (Wilson, 1996). The rate of employment among Puerto Ricans was twice that of White Americans and Puerto Rican women were virtually non-existent in the workforce. Not unexpectedly, many Puerto Ricans had no option but to turn to public assistance. The "Puerto Rican Problem" had intensified and the outcry for a solution had as well. Although the greater emphasis of the Great Society programs of President Johnson's administration was placed on the plight of Blacks in America, the situation facing Puerto Rican families was no less serious. Puerto Ricans in the mid-1960s were no better off economically than most Blacks.
Historically Puerto Ricans have been identified as an ethnic group mired in poverty. They have been expected to assimilate to the customs and mores of American society but, unlike other ethnic groups, the process of assimilation has not worked with the Puerto Ricans. Other ethnic groups have come to the United States having left their families and property behind them in an effort to start over in United States. Most never return to their old country and have invested everything in their efforts to make it in the United States. For the Puerto Ricans, however, this is not the case. Puerto Ricans are already United States citizens and are, therefore, free to travel back and forth to the Puerto Rican island freely. Visits home are freely allowed as is the opportunity to send money home. These factors have diminished the need to assimilate and have contributed to the Puerto Ricans willingness to distinguish themselves as a separate group.
When compared with other ethnic groups it is Blacks that Puerto Ricans are most often compared. White America tends to group them together when considering issues such as poverty, crime, welfare usage, and the dysfunctional nature of their families. Yet, economically, the plight of Puerto Ricans is much worse. Unlike the Puerto Rican community, Blacks have successfully managed to build themselves a community infrastructure. Black churches, community groups, and political organizations have managed to establish a strong political voice. Organizations like the NAACP and Urban League have positioned themselves to influence politics on all levels of government while no similar organization dedicated to promoting Puerto Rican concerns exists. Subsequent to the passing of the Civil Rights Bill Blacks managed to get elected to numerous political positions while Puerto Ricans stood by idly and elected nearly no one.
While the Hispanic bloc has enjoyed increased political power and influence in the United States, Puerto Ricans have not participated in this process. Instead, Puerto Ricans tend to stand on the outside looking in. Due to their cultural heritage that is based in both the Black race and Spanish ethnicity Puerto Ricans find themselves torn between two minorities without being able to claim fully belonging to either. The result has been that Puerto Ricans have never felt fully accepted by either and, in reality, have been exposed to discrimination on both fronts.
After over fifty years of living in America, Puerto Ricans continue to suffer from the effects of discrimination and the loss of opportunity. Puerto Ricans still tend to gravitate toward jobs with low status and income and, as a group, have not chosen to take advantage of educational opportunities in the United States. Nearly fifty percent of Puerto Rican homes are still headed by a single mother and with the cut backs in welfare programs throughout the United States these families suffer greatly from decreased benefits. There are, however, signs that the Puerto Rican community is finally beginning to realize that some form of organized effort is necessary. Along these lines Puerto Ricans have benefited from the movement toward bilingual education as it has served to increase the educational achievement of Puerto Rican students and, correspondingly, their understanding of American society and politics.
The fact that the Puerto Rican community has managed to establish itself in the New York City area has led to a severe increase in their political clout. Through electoral redistricting Puerto Ricans have been placed in districts where they are the majority or part of a Hispanic majority so that electing Puerto Rican representatives has become more realistic and possible. These developments have enabled Puerto Ricans to finally take part in the American political system.
Since the mass migration of Puerto Ricans following the Second World War Puerto Ricans have been subject to considerable discrimination. Some of this discrimination has been the result of the Puerto Rican people reluctance to assimilate but there have been other factors in play that have contributed to the situation as well. Hopefully, the Puerto Rican community has finally realized that they need to properly organize themselves in an effort to increase their political power and influence and that this recognition will translate into greater economic and social benefits for a group that has been disadvantaged for far too long. As Americans and an ethnic group, Puerto Ricans have been subject to far too much discrimination and deserve an opportunity to begin partaking in the American dream.
Lewis, O. (1965). La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty. New York: Random House.
Perez, G. (2004). Know Your Fellow American Citizen from Puerto Rico. In G. Perez, The Near Northwest Side Story (pp. 61-91). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Rodriquez-Morazzani, R. (1999). Political Cultures of the Puerto Rican Left in the United States. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Whalen, C. (2001). From Puerto Rico to Philadelphia: Puerto Rican Workers and Post War Economics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Wilson, W.J. (1996). When Work Disappears: The World of the New Urban Poor.…[continue]
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