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25 Puerto Ricans,Cubans,and Other Latinos M ichigan Mexicans generally enjoyed more rapid assimilation of American culture than was possible in the Southwest. Nonetheless, prevailing prejudices since the s portrayed Mexicans and Mexican Americans in Michigan, particularly those in agriculture, as cheap, docile, and temporary laborers to be forgotten when no longer needed. These sentiments were readily transferred to the first Caribbean contingent of Latinos—the Puerto Ricans. Technically considered migrants rather than immigrants because of U.S. citizenship bestowed upon that island territory (now called a commonwealth) in , Puerto Ricans took advantage of the increased demand for seasonal workers by corporate agricultural interests to enter the state in large numbers in the years immediately following World War II. A handful had filtered in earlier via New York and other points. In  and  the Puerto Rican Department of Labor approved contracts guaranteeing suitable working conditions, insurance, and travel, thereby allowing the introduction to the mainland of thousands every season. They either worked on farms in southeastern Michigan or fanned out across the state, generally from June to November, supplementing the work of tejanos and Mexicans. U.S. labor agents aggressively recruited unskilled rural villagers through intensive radio advertising campaigns on the island and then flew them north on sometimes perilous journeys aboard charter airplanes. Several midwestern companies advertised in newspapers and over the radio on the island; word of mouth from friends and relatives already on the mainland attracted others.25 Puerto Ricans constituted an important and distinguishable component of Spanish-speaking communities after World War II. Very little migration occurred during the Depression or the World War II era. Beginning in the late s, however, Governor Luis Munoz Marín attempted to transform the island’s stagnant agrarian economy by attracting U.S. investment to nascent industries. About one-third of the island’s labor force, having been displaced from its land and traditional way of life, journeyed north between  and . Puerto Ricans came to the United States in greatest concentrations during the s, a time when the midwestern economy needed entry-level workers. They entered several labor markets, concentrating in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit but extending also along the migrant stream. Puerto Ricans in the Great Lakes states became part of mixed-origin Latino communities . Like Mexican braceros, they first came to the Midwest in large numbers as contract workers, but their U.S. citizenship has allowed them greater ease of movement to and from their homeland.26 The recruiting of Puerto Rico agricultural workers involved arrangements between the beet companies and charter airlines. In the fall of , during the slack season in the island’s sugar cane industry, planes carrying fifty to sixty passengers each brought over two thousand migrants to Michigan in the space of two weeks for the harvest. This SaginawValley airlift was huge in numbers, if not in lasting impact. Workers were paid fifty-five cents per hour, and there were allegations of numerous contract violations and mistreatment by the Michigan Sugar Company that prompted calls for an official investigation. Soon after, this ill-fated venture ended, and Puerto Ricans left the sugar beet district. During the s and s, however, thousands of migrants worked the harvests in Florida and in the Northeast.27 Puerto Rican migrants promptly discovered that working conditions on the mainland failed to live up to the favorable depictions of the recruiting agencies. Many of the Saginaw migrants quickly tired of the poor housing, low pay, and bitter cold and left agricultural work after David A. Badillo 26 their contracts expired. Making their way to Detroit, they often settled in the very same blocks of the barrio as the Mexicans, forming a culturally diverse Latino neighborhood with an interesting array of Latino businesses developing alongside one another, most using Spanish as the lingua franca. Unlike the pattern in Chicago, however, no separate Puerto Rican area emerged in Detroit.28 As the solos sent for their families, direct migration began to take place with neighboring communities in the Detroit metropolitan area. Many Puerto Ricans came to work in industrial and service jobs in Pontiac and Flint, where, in a manner similar to that of the Mexican Americans, they dispersed widely and mixed with the general population . A sense of ethnic solidarity has persisted, nevertheless, as evidenced by annual celebrations of Puerto Rican heritage. A strong Afro-Caribbean culture, particularly evident in salsa music and Latin dance, has marked the introduction of the “Puerto Rican spirit” into Michigan. In , twelve thousand...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780870138881
Related ISBN
9780870136450
MARC Record
OCLC
606038479
Pages
80
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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