- Blurred Borders: Transnational Migration between the Hispanic Caribbean and the United States by Jorge Duany
Jorge Duany’s Blurred Borders is a wonderful foray into the migration history of the Hispanic Caribbean. It brings us up to the present moment of peoples in constant movement across cultural borders and legal boundaries. Puerto Rico faces a new exodus of migrants to the mainland, the Dominican Republic will likely see expanded outmigration regardless of the final version of U.S. immigration “reform,” and all predictions of a post-Castro Cuba suggest greater interaction between the Cold War adversaries. Given the growing presence of Caribbean Latinos in the U.S. future, the release of this work could not be timelier.
Duany works with two overlapping and interrelated concepts: diaspora (the movement, migration, or scattering of a people away from an ancestral homeland) and transnationalism (the creation and maintenance of multiple social ties across borders and boundaries). Diasporas are the physical and imaginary spaces in which transnational migrants act out their lives. The latter is the connecting thread woven through this account. His central thesis, informed by deep research and personal experience, is straightforward: “I argue that the form, frequency, and intensity of transnationalism largely rely on the nature of the relationship between sending and receiving countries” (p. 7).
The book’s main contributions explicate several examples of how this dynamic has played out over time. What could appear as a bewildering array of experiences is rendered into [End Page 362] a systematic treatment that identifies similarities and differences among Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Dominicans in the diasporas. The author begins with a comparative history of the three islands, each with its particular experience of domination at the hands of the great power to the North. He then considers their various migration histories, before taking up several case studies within each group’s migration story.
The Puerto Rico Farm Labor Program of the 1950s through 1970s was devised to mitigate the island’s unemployment crisis. As “transnational colonial” migrants (Duany’s term), Puerto Ricans were an early expression of the phenomenon that is taken for granted today. The book next fast-forwards to the present. The exodus of Puerto Ricans to Florida, starting in the 1990s, has culminated in the establishment of a newer, middle-class, community. These “Orlando Ricans” display even closer ties to their homeland, and less openness to a generic Latino identity, than do Puerto Ricans in older diasporic communities.
In two chapters discussing the Cuban diaspora, Duany’s objective is to counter the notion of Cuban exceptionalism. Yes, those who have left the Revolution are a special case, but he registers a negative response to the question “Do Cubans … occupy a unique and privileged position in contemporary transnational migration?” Since the end of the Cold War they no longer benefit from privileged status in U.S. immigration policy, and the Cuban government has allowed for extensive contact and economic activity between the U.S. Cuban community and their homeland. Family visits, telephonic communication, and economic remittances have all grown in the past two decades. So has outmigration to Europe and Latin America. Examining alternative scenarios of a new regime of U.S.-Cuba relations, Duany estimates that future emigration to the U.S. will range from a quarter of a million to a half of a million people per decade. One wonders where will these newcomers settle. How will they identify themselves ethnically and racially? Will their incorporation into American society differ markedly from previous migration waves from Cuba?
The final case study, covering three chapters, considers Dominicans in the United States and Puerto Rico. Are Dominicans really a transnational community, or do they correspond more accurately to the notion of diaspora, with its suggestion of settlement and rootedness? Do we not see within the United States evidence of dense community networks, rising political participation, and new cultural expressions among the growing second generation? This is a highly...