Puerto Rican migration to the United States exploded in the decades following World War II. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican men, women, and families arrived in US cities and towns, and Puerto Rican communities grew dramatically in places like Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Newark, New Jersey. Eighty-five percent of Puerto Rican migrants during this time settled in New York City, which had included a sizeable Puerto Rican population since since the 1910s.
For much of the early twentieth century, Puerto Rico was an agrarian society that struggled with high unemployment rates and poverty. With the advent of affordable air travel and a boom in industrial jobs in the United States following World War II, many Puerto Ricans moved to the US in pursuit of better economic opportunities. Operation Bootstrap—a series of state-sponsored programs by the US and Puerto Rican governments in the 1940s and ’50s to urbanize, modernize, and industrialize Puerto Rico’s economy through investment and job creation by US companies—also encouraged Puerto Rican migration. As the economy of Puerto Rico shifted from agriculture to industry, Operation Bootstrap included provisions for farm workers to be transported from Puerto Rico to American farms.
Puerto Ricans had the freedom to travel to the United States as citizens but, like immigrants from a foreign country, they faced challenges of adapting to new cultural, social, and economic surroundings. In New York and other cities, Puerto Rican men and women were employed in a range of industries but also encountered language barriers and discrimination based on race and ethnicity. Puerto Rican communities had an important cultural impact on New York and other places across the country by introducing new styles of music and art. Puerto Rican migration to the US slowed during the economic downturn of the 1970s. Today, however, Puerto Rican communities continue to exist across the United States. In recent years, Puerto Rican migration to the US, especially Florida, has increased again in response to the island’s economic crisis and severe debt.
Additional resources for research
- Immigration: Puerto Rican/Cuban, Library of Congress.
- The Story of US Puerto Ricans, Part 4, The Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Centro, at Hunter College, The City University of New York.
- Latinas in History, an interactive project, Brooklyn College, CUNY.
- An obituary for Lolita Lebron, The Washington Post, 2010.
- Latino Americans Timeline, PBS.