The Status Debate As An Example Of Nationalist Politics For Puerto Ricans

3343 words - 13 pages

The Status Debate as an Example of Nationalist Politics for Puerto Ricans

Puerto Rico and its people have endured a long history filled with colonialism and ambiguous rule. It is a nation whose citizens have endured years of imperial rule, enslavement and forced dependence on other countries for its existence. It is a nation which has changed drastically from the days when Tainoes were the exclusive inhabitants of the island. Unfortunately, Puerto Rico can no longer stand alone as its own country. Years of Spanish colonization have kept many Puerto Ricans at a "blue collar" level. Industrialization of the island, begun when the United States acquired Puerto Rico in the Spanish American War, has gradually forced Puerto Ricans to abandon their way of life, a way of life which once allowed many Puerto Ricans to reap the agricultural benefits of the island. Now, what was once an island where Puerto Ricans produced more than they could consume, has been reduced to an environmentalist's nightmare. Fields which once produced tropical fruits and vegetables as well as sugar and coffee have now been nearly destroyed by the harmful effects of industrialization. "The heat from the petrochemicals . . . ate away at the roots and in four years killed the plants and baked the dirt. That is not sand you see, it's dirt clay baked white. If you were to try to walk up that mountain, the soles would burn off your shoes." (Lopez, 1987: 75) Industrialization brought jobs which earned Puerto Ricans higher wages than they could earn in the fields. Thus, many abandoned the fields for factories, creating a shift to dependence on American industry in Puerto Rico for survival. Islanders could no longer feed their families on the fruits of the land. The promises of Operation Bootstrap had now forced Puerto Ricans to use American food stamps to buy imported American goods, for "even when industrialization was in place, 'Bootstrap' never generated the number of jobs eliminated by the death of agriculture" (Lopez, 1987: 95), ever increasing Puerto Rican dependence on the United States for survival. With the passage of the Jones-Shaforth Act in 1917, Puerto Ricans were now US Citizens and could travel freely between the island and mainland United States. The US Government made it easy for Puerto Ricans to relocate to New York City by offering very cheap transportation on "Marine whaler" boats. The government also gave tax breaks to companies who would hire the new wave of immigrants mainly located in three areas: "the Brooklyn Navy Yard where cheap labor was in demand; to the Bronx, where an impressive development of small factories sprung from postwar industrialism; or to New York's garment center, where needle trade jobs were being abandoned by the previous generation of immigrants." (Lopez, 1987: 97) Gradually Puerto Ricans spread to other communities in the United States, especially to other areas of New England such as New Jersey, Massachusetts and...

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