Apr. 3: Puerto Ricans and Cubans

Puerto Ricans ("Citizens yet Foreigners")

  • The U.S. acquired Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898

  • Not until 1917 were Puerto Ricans allowed to become American citizens

  • But they cannot vote

  • They are seen as foreigners, not citizens (similar to Filipinos as U.S. Nationals)

  • Puerto Rico was accorded commonwealth status in 1947, but status of island and its peoples as possessions of the United States did not change

  • As citizens, the people of Puerto Rico can move throughout the 50 states just as any other Americans can

Post WW2 migration factors

  • Economic depression in Puerto Rico

  • U.S. factory owners and employment agencies began recruiting heavily on the island

  • Return of thousands of Puerto Rican war veterans, whose service in the U.S. military had shown them the world

  • "They returned home believing that they had earned a place at the American table." (Author Juan Gonzalez)

  • Most significant cause was the sudden availability of affordable air travel

  • Puerto Rican migration became the first great airborne migration in U.S. history

Cuban Migration before 1959

  • Cuba becomes U.S. territory in 1898; strong U.S. ties and role in Cuba

  • Long-time pattern of migration across the Straits of Florida to work in the sugar, coffee, and tobacco industries

1959 Communist Revolution

  • 215,000 flee to U.S. in the first four years by air (elite, with U.S. connections or connections to U.S. backed dictator)

"Special Refugees"

  • "Few immigrant groups have commenced their economic adaptation to American life from a position of such relative advantage." (Alejandro Portes)

  • 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act made them instantly eligible for public assistance, Medicaid, food stamps, free English courses, scholarships, and low-interest college loans, business credit, and start-up loans

  • Act also allowed any Cuban who had lived in the U.S. for a year to become a permanent resident--a privilege that has never been offered to any other immigrant group.

  • "Cuban Miracle" in Miami - commercial boom, self-supporting entrepreneurs

1960s-1970s: 300,000 refugees allowed in (air travel resumed)
largely upper and middle classes; brought technical skills

1980 Marielitos

  • 1980: under international pressure, the Cuban government opened the port city of Mariel to any Cuban who wanted to leave for the United States

  • Cuban Americans mobilize to send a massive flotilla of private yachts, merchant ships, and fishing boats arrived in Mariel to bring Cubans to Florida

  • In the six months the port remained open, more than 125,000 Cubans were delivered to the U.S.

  • much less affluent than previous generations

  • a few thousand had been incarcerated while in Cuba

  • As a result, many Marielitos were stigmatized in the U.S. as undesirable elements, and thousands were confined in temporary shelters and federal prisons--some for years.

  • Their arrival marks a change in how Cuban refugees had been viewed and welcomed before

Later Refugees

  • 1980s and 1990s: tens of thousands attempt to flee by sea, chancing death by drowning, exposure, or shark attacks to make the 90-mile crossing

  • They come on flimsy, dangerous, homemade vessels, including inner tubes, converted cars, and cheap plywood rafts, or balsos

  • Hundreds of the balseros died on the journey, and both governments came under global pressure to stop the flotillas. By the end of the 90s, the two countries agreed that U.S. would return any boats to Cuba

1994: The end of special treatment

  • August, 1994 - 20,000 Cubans attempt entry

  • Pres. Clinton disallows special treatment for Cubans. "All persons from the island nation heading for the US on rafts and small boats are to be treated as illegal aliens, detained in centers outside the US, and not permitted to enter the US unless they can satisfy the criteria for refugee or immigrant status individually."

Elian Gonzalez, 1999

  • November, 1999: a six year-old boy named Elian Gonzalez is found in the Straits of Florida clinging to an inner tube. His mother and 11 others had drowned

  • He is rescued and lives with Miami relatives for six months

  • U.S. & Cuba engage in bitter struggle to return Elian to his father in Cuba

  • Cuban exiles in Miami lead the battle to keep Elian in the U.S.

  • U.S. government orders him returned


"Puerto Rico Vote Endorses Statehood," Nov. 7, 2012 (AP)
The Mariel Boatlift, Miami Herald (passenger lists and memories)

El Mariel Timeline (Miami Herald)

Elian Gonzalez 10 year anniversary story on CNN (April, 2010)

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by erikalee published on April 1, 2013 9:45 PM.

Apr. 3: Latinos - Exploring Changing Demographics was the previous entry in this blog.

Apr. 8: SE Asian Refugee Migrations is the next entry in this blog.

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