Etymologically, the Greek word diaspora means dissemination, dispersion, or diffusion, especially of people, culture, or language. The term was first applied to the Jews exiled in Babylon and other gentile towns from the 6th century B.C. Then, it was used to identify large ethnic groups that reside outside their native country. Although they lived elsewhere, many of these groups maintained strong ties to their country of origin. In this sense, Puerto Ricans are a diasporic people, because many live outside of the Island, but continue to consider themselves as part of the Puerto Rican nation.
Unfortunately, the official statistics on the movement of people between Puerto Rico and the United States are not very reliable due to the absence of migratory data. Nevertheless, available statistics highlight the main tendencies. In the 1940s, Puerto Rican emigration reached massive levels, arriving at its highest peak the following decade. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the exodus was stabilized, but it increased during the 1980s and 1990s. In total, more than a million people migrated throughout the 20th century. Nowadays, the flow of Puerto Ricans toward the mainland continues relentlessly.
Since the mid 1960s, the Puerto Rican diaspora has been characterized by a growing revolving door movement. The net emigration decreased to a minimum and seemed to stop momentarily at the beginning of the 1970s. For the first time since the 1930s, more Puerto Ricans were returning home. One of the main reasons for this was the deterioration of the quality of life and work in New York, particularly in the industrial sector.
High emigration rates were reestablished during the last two decades of the 20”^ century. At that time, the insular rates of poverty (48% in 1999) quadrupled the U.S. rates (11%). In June of 2006, the unemployment rate in Puerto Rico was more than twice as high. Moreover, the elimination of Section 936 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code brought about great economic and political uncertainty. The fiscal crisis of 2006 increased the level of that uncertainty and triggered a renewed exodus.
After the Second World War, Puerto Ricans migrated mainly to the Northeast and Midwest of the United States. Although New York continues to have the largest Puerto Rican population, its proportion has declined by 75%. Recent Puerto Rican migration has increased significantly: from little more than 2% in 1960 to almost 17% in 2004. By the nineties, Florida had replaced New Jersey as the second state with most Puerto Ricans. During the second half of the decade, Orange and Osceola counties became the primary destinations for Puerto Ricans, displacing the Bronx and other destinations in New York, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. Furthermore, five out of the ten places where most recent migrants settled were in Florida.
New patterns of Puerto Rican migration are part of a wider movement of people from urban centers to suburban areas, from the Northeast and Midwest toward the southern and western parts of the United States. Cities like Orlando, Tampa, and Miami have received growing numbers of Puerto Ricans, while the traditional centers of the diaspora such as New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago have shrunken. At the moment, Orlando is the second largest metropolitan area with Puerto Ricans in the United States. In fact, more Puerto Ricans live in Orlando than in Carolina, our third largest municipality. Nevertheless, the city of New York still had the largest number of Puerto Rican immigrants in 2004: 891,179.
The current phase of Puerto Rican migration can be considered post-New Yorican or diasporican. In 2004, almost the same number of Puerto Ricans lived on the Island than in the diaspora. Numerous surveys confirm that those who reside in the U.S. still feel as Puerto Rican as those who have never migrated. In upcoming years, the diasporic character of Puerto Rican culture will probably be accentuated even further. To be Puerto Rican will no longer be a matter place of residence and language. The Puerto Rican diaspora will propose new formulas to redefine our national identity.
Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: April 11, 2008.
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