The Puerto Rican Experience in the United States

“I’m a skinny, dark-face, curly-haired, intense Porty-Ree-can – Unsatisfied, hoping, and always reaching.” (16)

Many Puerto Ricans have made the move from the island to the States. In fact, over one third of the Puerto Rican population resides in the US. Of those, forty percent live in New York. (5)

During the 1950’s, the Puerto Rican experience was one of hard work and little or no rewards. Most Puerto Rican men and women were working in the harshest environments and earning the lowest pay in New York City. Such jobs involved domestic work, hotels, meat packing, baking and hard labor in various areas including apparel, electrical, and furniture assembly. Unfortunately, this trend has not yet changed. (5)

Several Puerto Ricans and Cubans moved to Washington Heights, New York in the 1950’s. In the 1970’s, many Dominicans followed creating a working-class, immigrant community. Washington Heights became known as a drug-infested neighborhood with rundown apartment buildings eventually creating significant problems in the area. These problems still exist today. (11)

Throughout history, Puerto Ricans have faced blatant and structural racism while struggling to find the so-called American Dream in the United States. The notion that hard work creates success in America has faltered to hold true in the case of Puerto Ricans, especially in New York. Employed in labor-intensive jobs, working long hours with little pay, and living in poor, dangerous neighborhoods, the Puerto Rican experience has become one of resilience and struggle in the United States.

One Puerto Rican and Cuban author, Piri Thomas, writes of this experience in his book, Down These Mean Streets. “In writing Down These Mean Streets, it was my hope that exposure of such conditions in the ghetto would have led to their improvement. But, thirty years later, the sad truth is that people caught in the ghettoes, have not made much progress, and in fact, have moved backwards in many respects-the social safety net is much weaker now. Unfortunately, it’s the same old Mean Streets, only worse.” (16)

For more information on the Puerto Rican experience in the United States, please look at Piri Thomas' book entitled "Down These Mean Streets."