Puerto Rican New Yorkers: Author’s Essay

The narratives, documents and arguments presented in these blogs are based on my research for various books. When I began to research the history of Puerto Ricans in New York as workers (and New Yorkers) I knew that a traditional labor history approach that limited itself to unions or labor leaders would be an important component but would not suffice. I had not only to research their lives as workers but also follow them home, and examine some of the "connective tissue" that defined the community and neighborhood lives of working class Puerto Ricans. When I started tihs project I did not yet understand how rich and complex the stories and sources I encountered would become, calling for different skills and approaches. As I proceeded, I had to engage with questions drawn from race, urban, cultural, social, economic, political and migration history. I also learned how many pieces of the history of our communities remained poorly understood even after hundreds of research reports, theses and other pieces of work had accumulated over the years. The years covered in the blogs range from the 1900s to the early 1970s and the themes emphasize stories of work, working class people and their struggles, and the larger contexts of liberalism and radicalism encountered and embraced by Puerto Ricans in New York. The research embedded in these blogs was carried out in dozens of archives and libraries (and is still not complete) but the valuable materials held at Centro library and archive were imprescindibles.

The blogs and documents refer to a variety of themes that include cigar makers, Communist Party networks, garment unions, fights against exploitation and insights into the myriad interactions between Puerto Ricans, migrant and second generation, in New York’s’ then-vast industrial, union and liberal-state landscape.The blogs are written for a general audience and tryto avoid the arguments and language of the academic monograph. They are also a work in progress, so you might see updates and additions.The blogs are not intended to provide complete coverage but to suggest the issues, voices and stories of a small set of the places and contexts experienced by Puerto Ricans in New York.

I hope that these stories and the books associated with this research (includling the volume co-authored by Lorrin Thomas--Rethinking the Struggle for Puerto Rican Rights-Routledge Press) will serve as a tribute to the fights, small and large, successful and not so successful, of so many Puerto Ricans to earn a decent living with dignity, together with so many other New Yorkers.

The author is grateful for the help provided over the years and for this project by Centro staff and support for my writing from the Centro as well as Rutgers University. Gabrielle DaCosta and Natalie Saldarriaga helped edit the blogs. I also thank the many research assistants, especially Luz Sandoval, who have helped with the research over the years.

Aldo Antonio Lauria Santiago

Professor of Caribbean, Latin American and US Latino History

Rutgers University, New Brunswick