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Reviews of Puerto Rican Arrival in New York: Narratives of the Migration, 1920–1950

“Juan Flores, the former professor of German studies at Stanford University who ‘migrated’ to sociology and Puerto Rican studies after being politicized on account of the antiwar and Chicano student movements during the late 1960s and early 1970s (Alcoft 2003), is acknowledged as one of the founding scholars of Puerto Rican studies in New York City. Having worked as a researcher and director at the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College from its early inception, Flores helped organize numerous research projects, including the migratory narratives of the Puerto Rican communities settling in New York City’s early colonias before and after World War II. Puerto Rican Arrival is a product of this effort that complements earlier historical critiques (Colon Lopez 2002; Glasser 1995, Matos Rodriguez & Hernandez 2001; Sanchez Korrol 1994). First published as Divided Arrival in 2003, the text brings together the migration experiences and reflections of Bernardo Vega, Juan B. Huyke, Jesus Colon, and Guillermo Cotto-Thorner — all male leaders who traveled via ship from the ports of San Juan to New York City.

“The book highlights the initial testimonial and literary accounts of diasporic Boricuas as they navigated the economic changes occurring before and after the industrial planning of ‘Operation Bootstrap,’ which was masterminded by the administration of the former Governor Luis Munoz Marin. Essential requirements for a modernist project in Puerto Rico: ‘Young people who are leaving our shores benefit Puerto Rico. If they return to the Island, they will bring with them the experience of living in a large country, and they will know how to see things from a broader perspective’ (p. 77). Huyke also believes that Puerto Ricans have a future in U.S. politics: ‘Imagine the day when one of our young men, or one of their sons, is elected Representative, or Senator, or President of the United States! After all, Roosevelt’s ancestors were Dutch’ (pp. 78-79). Huyke’s endorsement of comparing Puerto Ricans to the Dutch, or even his support of a Protestant ethic, overlooks the way U.S. colonialism created the conditions that promoted unemployment, poverty, social inequality, and emigration to the states (City University of New York, Centro de Estudios Puertorriquefios, History Task Force 1979).

“Also included in the anthology is the writing of Guillermo Cotto-Thorner, a former ordained Baptist minister and educator who had a column called the ‘Progressive Pulpit’ in the revolutionary newspaper Liberation, and who authored a novel, Tropico en Manhattan (Manhattan Tropic) (Cotto-Thorner 1951). Portraying Puerto Ricans as actively redefining the physical and cultural landscape of the city, this novel is one of the first books to include a glossary of Nuyorkismos, a list of definitions explaining the new linguistic practices of New York Puerto Ricans (p. 127) that give rise a generation later to the Nuyorican poetry and literature sparked by Piri Thomas’s Down These Mean Streets (1967). Cotto-Thorner adopts a perspective that is still used in contemporary multicultural discourse around diversity and difference: ‘Our colony is something like a shiny tile mosaic … Our people are bound together by an eternal spirit. And just like that mosaic there’s a whole range of colors, designs, and shades. We, too, are divided but also united. Believe me, we’re part of a mosaic encrusted in the bedrock of Manhattan’ (p, 167). This mosaic metaphor is later adopted by David Dinkins, the first African American mayor of New York City (1990-1993), who celebrated the ‘gorgeous mosaic’ of New York City’s residents.

“Overall, Puerto Rican Arrival in New York is an accessible reminder to readers that not all Latinos are immigrants, that Puerto Rican emigration to the States is a U.S. byproduct of what Juan Gonzalez aptly describes as a ‘harvest of empire’ (Gonzalez 2000), and that not all migrants understand and experience migration similarly. Both Spanish- and English-language readers can appreciate this bilingual edition. It will be an asset for middle school, high school, and early college students who seek to understand the diverse experiences of Puerto Rican emigrants in New York City.”
— Wilson A. Valentin-Escobar, New West Indian Guide, vol. 83 no. 1 & 2