Pureza Pollo y Texidor and Carlos Blondet
September 11, 1937




The Puerto Rican Northern Migration Created Heroes for Us to Honor

by Ariel Blondet




Over population, poor economic and living conditions on the Island of Puerto Rico fueled the Puerto Rican northern migration after WW II. How else could these sons and daughters of “Borinquen” justify leaving their homes, families and birth place if not to provide a better life for their families? Yes, they left their heart and soul in Puerto Rico but not their pride and dignity. It was not a pot of gold or a hand out that they came for; rather, it was something that their beloved homeland could not provide; a job. They found jobs upon arrival, but they also found poverty, discrimination, (Ethnic and racial) poor housing conditions, [1] overcrowding and looming in the horizon, old man winter and a hopefully a longer life. In 1940 the probable life expectancy in Puerto Rico was 46.10 years; [2] in the continental United States, it was 62.9 years. [3]

Although New York City [4] received the most attention, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Michigan. hired many seasonal farm contract workers.[5] Derogatorily speaking, some of these men were referred to as “tomateros” (tomato pickers). It is estimated that these so called tomateros sent or returned home with over a million dollars per season. Amen for tomatoes. When you add the funds that were sent by the dish washers, porters and factory workers you can understand why the Puerto Rican government encouraged its citizens especially those in the lower economic ladder to migrate up north to find work.

American companies were eager to lure Puerto Rican men and women for the low paying jobs especially in the agriculture, hotel and restaurant industries where not speaking English was a problem. Once the contracts expired, no one was required to return to Puerto Rico and many did not. Many young women trained to work as domestics and were sent north to work in private homes also under contract. To this day, some still keep in touch with the children that they helped reared. They even danced at their weddings. However, there were those who left to find work on their own, or with a promise of a job by relatives already working in la factoría/fabrica. Many women worked in the garment industry [6] or at home as sawing machine operators. You knew who they were because they were the ones that would interrupt a stickball game because you would want to help (you had better) them carry the shopping bags full of items for them to sew at home. (Piece work) They were also the only ones with a commercial Singer sewing machine at home, and of course, they were the ones you would go to when you needed stitching done.

Because they did not forget those who stayed behind, these heroes and heroines would pool their money and send for more relatives. This cycle would continue until all families were united and the children attending school, since children’s education was a must. [7] The passing of the torch for a better tomorrow began with the children’s education. Some parents would work day and night just to make it happen because it did not take them long to realize that the streets of New York were not paved with gold. It took hard work to accomplish their dreams, and work hard they did.

Perhaps the most famous ship that participated in the Puerto Rican migration would have to be the SS Marine Tiger. It was also one of the largest, capable of carrying more than one thousand passengers per voyage, more if you count the stowaways. The fact that the SS Marine Tiger was one of the last passenger ships to operate between San Juan and New York probably had much to do with its name retention. Also, new arrivals, regardless of what ship they arrived on, were referred to as “Ese es un Marine Tiger.” Several other participating steam ships were: Borinquen, Brazos/San Lorenzo, Carabobo, Caracas, Carolina, Coamo, Ponce, Porto Rico, Puerto Rico, and San Jacinto. Some were also classified as cargo passenger ships, which helps explain why the early arrivals were associated with the term “banana boat passengers.”

These passengers, and those that followed, would have one thing in common; they did not forget those who stayed behind in Puerto Rico. Growing up on Hopkins Street in my old neighborhood, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, New York, it was a common ritual that on any given Saturday morning, a trip for my parents and others to the post office on Debevoise Street between Graham Avenue and Humboldt Street was a must for the sole purpose of buying a money order (giro) or sending a package (paquete de ropa) of clothes, or sometimes both, back home to help feed and dress those left behind. These are the same people that I would see when they were on their way to night school (at JHS 148) with their composition note books to learn how to speak and write in English. [8]

Today, I look back to my childhood and refer to it as the good old days. Were they, and for who? I was so busy going to school, playing stickball, kicking the can, three steps to the King, Johnny on the pony and all the other games that we New York Ricans would play in the streets and back yards of Nueva yorl. (sic) How could they have been the good old days when our parents were so busy struggling to make ends meet? What do we really know about yesterday? What do we really know about the sacrifices that were made by our parents on our behalf? To think that I would thank Santa Clause and not my parents for a wonderful Christmas makes me wonder. Still, I don’t complain in front of my children either and my granddaughter still pretends to believe in Santa and I want it to last as long as it can.

I have often wondered why these factory/contract workers and the stay at home (baby sitting) moms are not mentioned when we talk about Puerto Rican heroes. How many people in Puerto Rico today have a college education because those money orders and clothes from up north made it possible for them to make it through high school? How many of those money orders paid for a new tin roof, an extra room or a new home, or created a healthier living environment, especially for the new born? According to the Department of Health, in 1945 there were (in Puerto Rico) 86,680 births and 28,837 deaths, including 8,064 children not surviving pass their first year of life. I would like to think that those money orders and clothes helped improve the living standards for many in la Isla del encanto. This migration was really about ordinary people doing extraordinary things for the betterment of their family and their homeland.

We must never forget that their dream for a better tomorrow did not or will not die with them, therefore, it is our responsibility to honor their memory and make their dream become a reality. Welcome to Pasajeros a Nueva York where you will meet some of the true heroes of the Puerto Rican migration to el norte (up north).

I dedicate this article to my parents and definitely my heroes Carlos Blondet native of Santa Isabel, and Pura Pollo y Texidor native of Salinas (Aguirre).You can find a monument dedicated to them en la Calle Barcelona in the town of Guayama; it’s the house they helped rebuilt with those money orders for my maternal grandmother, Blasina Texidor. Bendición mami, bendición papi. The dream lives on because it’s in my blood.




Notes
    [1] Some reports describe the housing as being substandard but as I remember, my mother with our help kept a decent looking apartment. I can still remember the floral wall paper, the floral carpeta (linoleum) the floral slip covers and who can forget the figurines on every available space including el chinero (curio), Does any one remember the curtain stretcher with what seem like a million nails around the edges?
    [2] National Center for Health Statistics, National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 52, no. 3, Sept. 18, 2003, Web: www.cdc.gov/nchs
    [3] Esperanza de vida en Puerto Rico Historia de Coamo, La Villa Añeja. p. 419 Ramón Rivera Bermúdez, Imprenta Costa, Inc. Coamo, Puerto Rico. 1980
    [4] Persons of Puerto Rican birth in New York City and the United States According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census
    [5] The estimate for Michigan in 1948 is five thousand farm workers to work in the Beet fields Al Norte: Agricultural Workers in the Great Lakes Region, 1917-1970 Dennis Nodín Valdés p. 122
    [6]The International Ladies Garment Workers Union reports in 1947 a membership of over 5,000 Puerto Rican women workers. p.44

    [7]The total of Puerto Rican pupils attending public schools in New York City in 1947 is 24,989. One school, PS 168 located at Throop Avenue and Bartlett Street in Brooklyn had over 500 and I was one of them. The estimate for parochial schools is about 3,000 p.38

    [8]According to the New Cork City Board of Education, in the school year of 1946/1947, 3,536 Puerto Ricans were registered in adult classes. p.39

Items [6] [7] [8] As reported in the book, The Puerto Rican Experience (Puerto Ricans in New York City) The report of the Committee on Puerto Ricans in New York City of the Welfare Council of New York City. Arno Press, New York - 1947


The Puerto Rican Northern Migration Created Heroes for Us to Honor was first published by The Puerto Rican/Hispanic Genealogical Society, Inc., in EL COQUI DE AYER, November-December 2004, Volume 9, Issue 6

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An excellent place to begin researching Puerto Rican migration would be The Center (El Centro) for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York City. Also recommended is Miguel Hernández’ (former President of The Puerto Rican/Hispanic Genealogical Society, Inc.) article, “From the Island to the Continent: Ships that Brought Our Ancestors to NY” which appeared in EL COQUI DE AYER, May-June 1999, Volume 4, Number 3










Copyright © October 2001 - 2010, Dalia Morales
Revised: October 15, 2010

URL:
Puerto Rico: My Ancestors and Their Descendants
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