- Sponsored Migration: The State and Puerto Rican Postwar Migration to the United States by Edgardo Meléndez
This book is an attempt to provide a comprehensive history of Puerto Rican migration to the continental United States in the decades after the end of WWII. This is an ambitious book and despite its shortcomings it takes its place among a recent wave of historically framed and archive based monographs that aim to dispel myths and provide more empirical evidence and thematic coverage to the story of Puerto Rican migration between 1945 and the 1960s. The study is an important contribution to the literature on Puerto Rican migration. The principal argument is that Puerto Rico’s colonial government had a complex but critical role in the evolution of migration policy in the post WWII years. Even if one disagrees with the overarching claims and arguments about the state’s role, the book brings many classic and new, unstudied themes into one same narrative and will no doubt stimulate debate and further research.
The first chapter discusses the role of the colonial state in the migration process. Chapter two continues this discussion with a more specific focus on the colonial government’s policies toward migration and covers the narrative of the early post-war years.
The author’s goal is to clarify the role of government policy in migration and these chapters cover some of the legal and policy issues involved in the migration process. But the model on which the book relies for his discussion of the state is rather hermetic and does not allow any space for negotiation, response and the participation of other institutional (or class) players like unions, US mayors, or the Puerto Rican community in New York. The book ends up emphasizing (ironically) the policy practices of the colonial (appointed or elected) and autonomous (under the ELA) governors but the federal government is nearly absent from the framework or evidence.
Melendez’s principal contribution is to highlight the active role of the Puerto Rican government (colonial and elected) in the process of migration, sometimes offering a hard argument for its role, sometimes softening the claim to more modest explanations of the colonial state’s [End Page 189] role. Even if, in my estimation, the claim that government policy is the principal force responsible for the origin and course of the migration is mistaken, there is much here to ponder. The softer arguments for how government policy was a shifting part of the migration process is thoroughly justified and convincingly presented.
This chapter includes a comparison with the Philippines and a discussion of the migration policy committees that discussed post-war migration. Here the author focuses singularly in finding one causal vector, as if the process of migration could not have multiple and parallel dynamics. These chapters don’t link migration to the industrialization policies, like many other authors have done, and it is unclear where the author stands on the connections between these two processes which others have made. Also, the emphasis on state players, again, misses the important role of Puerto Rican community and political leaders in New York demanding protective action and agency from the island’s government before the 1947 law that created the Migration Division.
The next chapter focuses on the short-lived domestic worker training program that contracted directly with US based agencies, and the beginning of the farm labor program, both administered by Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor Migration Division. The farm labor discussion occupies most of the chapter but is still an incomplete review of the program. The author emphasizes the contractual and institutional aspects of the program but only inasmuch as there is an initiating role of policy that involves the colonial state. The continued administration and policy changes after that moment of creation are not considered. With a chronologic focus more fixed on the early years of these programs the chapter also reviews some, but not all, of the...