On Why Puerto Ricans Move to New York

Essay: Why Do Puerto Ricans Move to the United States?

Carmen Says

Why do Puerto Ricans move to the United States? Why did I?

By Carmen Bardeguez Brown

Lindo capullo de alelí

si tu supieras mi dolor

correspondiearas a mi amor y calmaras mi sufrir

Por que tu sabes que sin ti

la vida es nada para mi

Tu bien lo sabes capullito de alelí

                        Rafael Hernandez

Dislocations

The smell of aleli

Remembers a distant future

Of coco y pasteles

Yuca,name y cafe con leche

Aromatic memoirs

Chicharrones de Bayamon

VIajando por la carretera #2

Drinking pirogues en el Bronx

Memoirs of salt

Sea

Cana y pina

Translated in millions of taste

Sinsabores amargos

And the lullaby of a pitirre

Cantico del coqui

Frozen in giant mirrors

of voices

Tasting pinones y

Arroz con dulce sin pasas.

I amnot sure what was the final thought that made me decide to cross the Atlantic and move to New York City. I mentioned the idea to my father and he was supportive but he looked pensive when he told me to always focus on education and that I needed to work hard to achieve anything “better than them” in Puerto Rico or in the United States. He did not say it but I knew what he meant. He knew that there was racism in both countries, a different kind of racism but still racism.

Dad and mom instilled the value of education in all of us at a young age. I still remembered how they dutifully checked our homework and asked us about our school projects. They had high expectations from all of us and raised us to value education as the only true vehicle for self improvement.

I was scared about moving to New York. My older sister moved to the city to do her residency in a hospital in Queens. She had told me that after her graduation from the University of Puerto Rico Medical School, she was offered an unpaid internship while most of her more connected friends got paid residencies. Her choice was clear. She moved to New York searching for opportunities denied at home which is the number one reason why most Puerto Ricans move to the United States. Like any other immigrant group, we all search for better opportunities. The only significant difference is that Puerto Ricans are not immigrants as we are American colonial citizens since 1917.

My decision was a little more personal. I was feeling suffocated by what was going on in Puerto Rico and my personal life. I was not sure what I wanted to do after graduating from college. I was not interested in studying Law or getting married. Believe it or not, marriage was still the traditional thing to do for a young woman in the 80s inspite of having an education.

I knew neither of those options were for me. I was also involved with a few leftist organizations and felt that they were turning quite predictable and the cronyism of politics in my dear country was quite rampant. The unofficial black listing of anyone that supported the Independence movement in Puerto Rico was and still is a career death sentence.

The violence and constant surveillance towards individuals and organizations that were unapologetically working towards Independence was evident as in the Cerro Maravilla murder. I was a political science major and students knew who were the undercover agents in classes with professors who were considered radicals or on classes that were on the left side of the political spectrum. We all knew how to live under surveillance but the majority of the mainstream culture called us paranoids.

The sudden death of our beloved father seriously spiralled me into depression. I felt suffocated by the personal loss and the narrow-minded cultural discourse that was typical in colonial societies. I love my country dearly but I needed to venture into the unknown; explore new horizons that will force me to grow. I was in search of my destiny.

Essay: Why Do Puerto Ricans Move to the United States?

A few months after I completed my college degree, I made the final decision that changed my life. I decided to apply at the New School For Social Research and pursue a Master’s Degree in Political Economy. They had a world class faculty of Marxists and Social Democrats and it seemed to be the right fit for me. Once I was accepted, I eagerly ventured into my new adventure.

A Beautiful Sunny and Cold Winter Day

I arrived to New York City on January 4,1984. My sister Arlene and her Italian boyfriend picked me up at the airport. The next day, I woke up as if in a daze, thinking that I was in some kind of a dream. It was a beautiful sunny day and I decided to venture outside. I noticed some of the people in the lobby of my sister’s building looking at me a little strangely.

I was wearing a white T-shirt and jeans. As soon as I stepped outside, I thought I had arrived in Siberia. I felt so cold I could not think. I ran as fast as I could inside the building trembling. The concierge started to laugh quietly and said, what are you thinking? I was perplexed as I was not used to conversations in English. Then he told me in Spanish, muchacha mira que esta frio!

I couldn’t stop shaking and looking through the glass door, I saw the beautiful sun and said: El sol que no calienta.”I know that it didn’t make any sense but I have never experienced winter and couldn’t understand how a beautiful sunny day could be so cold. What a mirage a brilliant sun and a coldness that freezes your soul.

Perhaps, my first day was an experiential metaphor of my future life in the United States. The superficial promise of the ‘American Dream’ interlaced with the coldness of the American nightmare.

And after many years…

I have lived in New York City, and now in Westchester (with a short New Jersey stint in between) since 1984. My entire adult life has been experienced by the realities of living in the Big Apple. My career as an educator was with the New York City Department of Education. I was a 24-year-old Black Puerto Rican woman in search of her destiny. Living in the United States transformed my identity and I became a Puerto Rican/Nuyorican. This transformation allowed me to understand my country and my adopted country better.

The journey from the colony to the capital of the most powerful empire in the world, a young country is unparalleled. There are many life lessons to tell and still learning. I hope that I can continue to write about my life and the realities of being a “Black Latina” from Puerto Rico in New York.

I appreciate your comments and feedback. Hablamos pronto.

Essay: Why Do Puerto Ricans Move to the United States?

(About the author: Carmen Bardequez-Brown is a poet and teacher living in Hartsdale. Born and raised in Puerto Rico and educated in the US and PR, she tackles the complexity and nuances of being a creature in both cultures of the East and West, the colonized and the colonizer, in her blog. The birth of this blog is brought about by Carmen’s desire to write and publish which is ushered in by the Aspiring Writers Mentoring Program of 2018.) 

 

Public School Story Telling

WorkersWrite engaged in a project with City Lore called “A Life Well Crafted” to engage students in three New York City public schools to explore contributions of community activists and artists to their neighborhoods and city.

The program was inspired by the Clara Lemlich Awards given each year by Labor Arts and the National Writers United Service Organization, otherwise known as WorkersWrite, honoring women activists. The award is named for Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian Jewish immigrant who as a leader of the massive strike by shirtwaist workers in 1909, and by City Lore’s People’s Hall of Fame, honoring individuals who jave made a lasting contribution to cultural life.

Students worked with teaching artists to interview Lemlich and City Lore honorees, created portraits through song and spoken word poetry with some public events for families and neighbors.

Some of the songs and poetry are captured here and there is more information for teachers here

The project helped our organization to establish a partnership with City Lore that enabled us to achieve our goal of bringing our Clara Lemlich honorees and other community based activists to the city’s public schools. It also helped us to achieve our goal of raising students’ awareness of the important roles that artists and local activists play in community life and how the arts can be a powerful tool for civic engagement and social change. Students also learned about their guests’ career paths and how they used their art to serve a greater good.

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There Are Days When You Eat, And Others When You Don’t, But You Always Have To Work

By Pedro Alvarez

WINDSOR, CA – Pedro Alvarez is a migrant farm worker in Windsor. His children and grandchildren live in northern California. He speaks Triqui, a language spoken by indigenous people in his hometown of Santa Cruz Rio Venado, Oaxaca, Mexico.
Copyright David Bacon

I came here the first time in 1985 and went to work at in a vineyard. I didn’t know how to do the work at first, but I eventually learned how to prune, plant, tie vines and remove leaves. I also worked the grape harvest. I already had experience working outdoors on many ranches and in the fields in Oaxaca. It was easier working back there, though.

After a couple of years I brought my son Alejandro to the U.S. He began to work with us, but then cut his hand. The contractor said, “He can’t work. He has to go to school.” I didn’t know anything about the school system, but a friend helped me enroll him in high school. Alejandro graduated and went on to attend college in Sacramento. Two of my sons later joined me and then I brought my family to the U.S. in 1999. My wife, daughter and grandchildren all came.

I work in the fields to help my family. I worked a few years at one winery and then changed companies. It was very hard working for the second winery because they pressured us to work extremely fast, and they did not even provide us with water. You had to be strong, but some people couldn’t handle the conditions. The soil was hard; to do some jobs you had to walk with a shovel and a sack of fertilizer. People used to faint during the harvest because the work was so difficult. If you were behind the others by 20 plants, there was no work for you the next day.

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Twenty Years in the Fields

By Miguel

When I first came I went to Oregon and harvested strawberries, cucumbers and blackberries. It was hard because we were paid by the pound when harvesting strawberries and by the bucket when harvesting cucumbers — not by the hour. I earned about $300 a week. If you didn’t work fast, though, you couldn’t earn that.

When I first came alone, I couldn’t rent an apartment. I lived under a tree with five others. We lived next to a ranch, but they didn’t have any available rooms. It rains a lot in Oregon, and there we were under a tree. The blankets got wet, but we managed to go to work the next day.

After I brought my wife, we rented a room. At first my children stayed back at home in Oaxaca. We only had work for three months each year. It wasn’t a good situation, because there was so little work and hardly any money. With three months work we had to support ourselves, plus our kids back in Oaxaca, for the next nine months that followed. We had to save enough money when we were working to pay the rent when we weren’t. Otherwise, where were we to go? There was enough money for food but nothing more. We wanted to buy other things, but there was no money because we had so little work.

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I’ve Worked Many Years in the Fields Here in the United States

By Teresa Mondar

SANTA MARIA, CA – Teresa Mondar is a farm worker from Oaxaca, who began working in the fields of north Mexico when she was eight. Today she is disabled by arthritis and lives in an apartment with her family in a poor neighborhood of Santa Maria, CA.
Copyright David Bacon

I’ve worked many years in the fields here in the United States. Many years. I left Oaxaca when I was four years old. I don’t remember my time there. We moved to Baja California and I began to work there when I was eight years old, picking tomatoes. We came to the United States after that. My memories of that time are very sad because I had to work out of necessity. I started working in the United States at fourteen in California and in Washington State. My mother couldn’t support my younger siblings alone, and I’m the eldest daughter. I couldn’t go to school because my mother had younger children to support.

I started in the fields with strawberries and squash and weeding the fields. My very first job was picking strawberries. The foremen asked how old I was, but I lied about my age because I needed to work. I covered my face while working so they wouldn’t see my true age. We just worked there for the first five years, and then we went to Washington to pick strawberries, cucumbers and blueberries. We’d only go for a short time — two to three months — and then return to California.

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To Find Work, I Came Three Times

By Guadalupe Navarro Hernandez


Guadalupe (right) working in the United States

My name is Guadalupe Navarro Hernandez. I migrated to the United States three times. The first time, I was 12, the second time I was 23, and the last time I did it was not long ago.

I migrated to the United States because I could not find a job here, in Mexico, and

because the little money that my family earned was not enough to support my children or to pay for our most pressing needs. Leaving my family was very painful, but I wanted to be able to provide for them. I wanted the American Dream.

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Son of a Farm Worker Family

By Jonathan Cortez 

My name is Jonathan Cortez. I am 24 years of age and I am from Veracruz, Mexico. I currently live in Fellsmere, Florida. I am the oldest child and I have three younger sisters. I was born on February 2nd, 1989. I attended Sebastian River High and I went to Indian River State College for two years. My current occupations include: DJ, photographer, video and film producer, web developer, computer technician and computer repair specialist.

I came here to the U.S when I was about six years old, and my life as an immigrant has been tough. We came here to this country to have a better life and a better education. My parents spent over 10 years as migrant farm workers, so I never got to finish a year in school because I had to move so much. It was sad moving from state to state, but my parents recognized that it had to be done to support our family.

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