Hispanics American Experience from colonia to community.
The word colonia is a Spanish term for neighborhood or community. Colonias are characterized by lack of adequate water, sanitary housing, electricity and paved roads. Most colonias are outside the limits of the city or in isolated areas of a county.
During the post war period many Puerto Ricans began migrating from Puerto Rico to
America. Their migration was motivated by the search of jobs and better living conditions. At the time the American economy looked promising as it was recovering from the effects of the war. Their settlement in America was centered in New York around Sparnish Harlem. However as their population increased they moved in to Brooklyn and South Bronx. (Korrol V. E. S, 1984)
Although they were in a foreign land they did not want to loose their cultural identity. They had come to America with the hope that once their futures were secure they would go back home to an improved economy (Korrol V. E. S, 1984). They therefore developed their own communities where their cultural practices and values were emphasized. Language was one of the dominant features of this settlement. They wanted to ensure that successive generations from immigrant families maintained and practiced their cultural practices.
They went as far as forming their own community organizations such as The United Bronx Parents Association founded by Eva Lopez Antonetty. This was a platform for the provision of better education in the Puerto Rican community. Students also demonstrated in support of the introduction of Puerto Rican studies at Brooklyn College (Korrol V. E. S, 1984). Total assimilation was therefore out of question.
In the 1950s, the immigrants begun to face new challenges. Projects like urban renewal were introduced in their traditional neighborhoods around New York forcing them to move to the north where there were industries. Middle aged men and women moved to this area where they found low paying jobs in industries. As a consequence a very young population was left in New York. This comprised mostly children below the age of nineteen years. By this time the Puerto Rican population in continental America was growing rapidly as three out of every ten Puerto Ricans had America as their place of birth (Korrol V. E. S, 1984).
A slow down of the American economy in the 1960s gave a new face to their migration. Companies in America reduced their reliance on human labour for their operations and used machines in their place. This was of greater advantage as the burden of labor unions was removed from their backs. The corporations also took their operations to countries where labor was cheaper and labor laws were conducive to their operations. America was no longer attractive to Puerto Ricans as it had been before (Korrol V. E. S, 1984). Unemployment among the community was rising and the situation did not look like it was going to get better. The number of immigrants from Puerto Rico to America took a dip. Some of the immigrants started going back home and those who remained took low paying jobs. This trend has continued over the years as whenever the economic situation in America worsens most Puerto Ricans go back home and come back when things get better.
The American economy was changing rapidly. There was now an emphasis on white collar jobs as opposed to blue collar jobs. This made the situation complex for the Puerto Ricans as they did not have the necessary skills required for these jobs. Their insistence on maintaining their cultural roots was working against them. Most Puerto Ricans had little or no education and to make matters worse they could not speak fluent English.
It was at this time that the Puerto Rican government came up with the Bootstrap plan. This was aimed at improving the economy which had a record of poor performance. Incentives were put in place to attract foreign companies. This led to the creation of new jobs which encouraged many Puerto Ricans to go back home (Korrol V. E. S, 1984).
Despite the plan being very promising it failed midway due to lack of commitment by the leadership of the country. The Bootstrap plan placed so much emphasis on industrialization at the expense of agriculture. The country began to face an acute shortage of food as farmers were largely left out of the bootstrap plan. Almost two thirds of the population were faced with starvation. America came to their rescue by providing them with food stamps (Korrol V. E. S, 1984).
In the nineteen eighties there was an effort to increase the level of education among the Puerto Rican community. Teachers were recruited who were proficient in English with an aim of increasing literacy levels among Puerto Ricans. This was to prepare them to take on jobs in America. Their strategy not to be assimilated into the American culture had not borne much fruit. Times were changing and they could no longer afford to live in seclusion. With emerging trends like globalization the Puerto Rican community was at the risk of being left behind. As they were, white collar jobs were out of their reach. Jobs which required skilled and semi skilled labour were dwindling they could therefore not afford to depend on them for survival (Korrol V. E. S, 1984).
Generally the Puerto Rican community had good motives. They did not want their culture to be eroded which I believe is a noble quest. Everyone should be proud of their roots and should work to maintain and enhance them. However you cannot turn a blind eye to what is going around you. You must try to strike a balance between your culture and what is going around you. The world is rapidly becoming a global village and there is an interaction of various conflicting cultures which cannot be ignored.
The Puerto Rican approach was not the best. However they have done their best to remedy the situation with the hope the will make up for the gains lost. This situation is not peculiar to the Puerto Ricans in America only. Other communities are faced with similar challenges but it is how they deal with these challenges that determine their position in the American society
Korrol V. E. S, (1984), From Colonia to Community, University of Colonia Press.