The majority of Puerto Rican migrants were attracted to New York in the early years. By 1950 many had settled outside of New York. It is estimated that about 130,000 have settled in the Chicago area. Puerto Ricans, like many others, migrated to the United States to work. In the last several decades these U.S. citizens have filled labor shortages in many important mainland industries the textile and garment industries in New York, the electronics industries in Illinois, the foundries in Wisconsin, the steel mills in Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, and the farms in the East and Midwest. This population is plagued by poverty and alienation.57
The first Puerto Rican Parade in Chicago was held on June 12, 1966. It was during this time that there was an upsurge of riots in the West Town community on Division Street. The riots were spurred by the shooting of a Puerto Rican man by the Chicago police. These riots lasted until June 14, 1966, and they highlighted the bleak social conditions of the Puerto Rican youth and the random spurts of police brutality. The Puerto Rican community and other Latinos were faced with racism, inadequate housing, inferior health care, and a poor educational system.
In 1968, ASPIRA Inc. of Illinois was established as a nonprofit organization in Chicago’s West Town community to address the high dropout rates of Latinos and the growing social and educational needs in the Puerto Rican community. The first office was located on the third floor of a bank at the corner of Chicago and Ogden Avenues, in the community now known as River North. The first executive director of ASPIRA was Mirta Ramirez, who obtained funds to set up the first bilingual program in the public schools. She also founded the West Side Child Parent Bilingual Center, the first agency of its type in the nation. ASPIRA continues to thrive because of the perseverance and engagement of the Puerto Rican community.58
Two distinct migratory experiences and settlements between Puerto Ricans from Chicago and New York have been identified. The first migratory group, which is referred to as the old migration, consisted mostly of those who were already living in other parts of the United States, such as New York, before settling in Chicago. Those who came from Puerto Rico as part of the old migration were usually university students pursuing an education in the United States. Puerto Ricans migrating directly from the island to Chicago as part of the second migratory group were mainly contract laborers recruited for domestic and foundry work via employment and government agencies.
One main difference between Puerto Ricans and Mexicans is that Puerto Ricans are not deportable because of their status as U.S. citizens. However, the status of U.S. citizenship has not shielded Puerto Ricans from prejudice and discrimination. They have endured a long history of being displaced from their homes because of gentrification projects in their neighborhoods.59
In Chicago, Division Street continues to symbolize the preferred destination for new Puerto Rican migrants. Paseo Boricua, better known as Puerto Rican Road, has an abundance of culturally friendly restaurants and shops on Davison Street between Western and California Avenues. In the last few decades, the Puerto Rican population within Chicago has continued to grow. Recently, Puerto Ricans have extended their influence to some of Chicago’s suburbs, such as Naperville and Schaumburg.
Though the number of Puerto Ricans in white-collar or professional jobs is increasing, most continue to work as laborers and in domestic occupations.60 There are many similarities between Mexican and Puerto Ricans migrants. Although the Jones Act of 1917 granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans, poverty, police brutality, discrimination, and poor living conditions have created situations similar to those experienced by Mexicans, which resulted in a better understanding on the part of Puerto Ricans of the daily lives of their Latino counterparts.
Illinois Travel Destinations Photo Gallery