Illinois Vacations

Puerto Ricans

Many first-generation Puerto Rican migrants initially settled in various parts of the United States, particularly in Chicago and New York. The Jones Act of 1917 assured the inhabitants of the island of Puerto Rico U.S. Citizenship. The Puerto Rican influence in Chicago during the 1930s was minimal as there were only a few men and women who relocated from New York. Ultimately, the growth of Puerto Ricans settling in Chicago was sufficient to make an impact. The late 1940s saw a significant wave of Puerto Rican migration to Chicago.51

It is ironic that although Puerto Ricans from the island were U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans from New York felt in competition with them for jobs. During this juncture, the Puerto Rican government did not want to get involved, but through contract labor it agreed to direct migrating Puerto Ricans to areas other than New York so as to avoid competition with local Puerto Ricans for jobs: Through the advance-guardsmen’ project, fluent English-speaking Puerto Ricans would be sent to previously agreed-upon towns and cities to lay the foundation to ease the migration of other Puerto Ricans into that area.52 Ultimately, Puerto Ricans sought out larger cities such as Chicago, attracted by job opportunities. The migration of Puerto Ricans expanded as the immigration laws became unyielding, causing deportation of Mexican nationals as well as Mexican Americans.

During World War II, the need for labor again arose, and immigration laws were arbitrarily applied, luring foreigners to work in the United States. In the meantime, Puerto Ricans were being overlooked as viable members of the workforce. In 1946, after World War II, shady employment agents began offering Puerto Ricans employment in places where employment opportunities were scarce. Workers were transported to Chicago on cargo planes, were clearly overcharged for airfare, and were not allowed the customary luggage weight and capacity.

The new Puerto Rican migrants employed at the Chicago Hardware Foundry Company were underage, failed health exams, and worked in poor conditions. The U.S. Department of Labor went on record that these workers came of their own accord, and hence, it would not take action against the employers, unless there was a flagrant violation of contracts. The degree of violation would be later defined by the U.S. Department of Labor.53

Puerto Ricans were now working alongside the Mexican braceros. The braceros were hired initially to alleviate the need for laborers in the wartime relief effort. During this same period, an employment agency recruited women from Puerto Rico as domestic workers in the Chicago area. New Puerto Rican arrivals lived on the north side in Lincoln Park, Uptown, and Near West Side. But that began to change in the 1960s, when Puerto Ricans began to claim their own environs concentrating in West Town and Humboldt Park.54

The growth in the Puerto Rican population was astounding. In 1950 the population was 8,000, for the entire Midwest. Due to the advance guardsmen program and to employment agency recruitment, by 1960 the Puerto Rican population in Chicago had grown to 32,000.55 The most intense migration of Puerto Ricans from the island occurred after World War II, with over 2 million people migrating. Although the majority settled in New York, Chicago had the second-largest concentration of Puerto Ricans.56

Much like other Latinos, Puerto Rican migrant workers have suffered abuse in the workplace. For example, in 1946 an employment agency imported over 300 Puerto Rican girls to work as maids for about $60 a month. The agency then charged the girls a flat agency fee of $125.00 and paid them at the rate of $10 per month, while retaining additional funds in escrow for return flights. In another agency, over fifty Puerto Rican men were recruited for jobs at the North Chicago Hardware Foundry. They were paid approximately $30 weekly and then charged room and board, and employment agency fees. In addition, they had to pay for plane tickets to fly home.

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