New Jersey The First Waves
The beginning of a greater movement of Latinos to New Jersey took place during World War II. With so many workers in the armed forces and with the need for increased production, the federal government initiated a program to contract labor from the Caribbean and Mexico. In1944, 700 men were contracted from Puerto Rico to work in New Jersey: 500 were hired to work for the Campbell Soup Company in Camden, and the others to toil on farms. The latter were housed in a camp at Glassboro.
This recruitment by the government created a pattern that would have a large impact on New Jersey in the decades that followed, as agricultural labor continued to be needed in the postwar years. The number of contracted workers from Puerto Rico grew to 6,000 in 1954, and it remained at about 7,000 a year until 1973. Though most of these Puerto Ricans returned to their homes, some stayed and formed the base of a growing Latino population in Vineland and Glassboro, in South Jersey. Some Puerto Ricans also migrated to Camden, Trenton, and Newark.
There was also some recruitment of additional Puerto Rican workers for New Jersey’s mines and factories. Seven men were recruited in 1948 (and more came later) from Aguada, in Puerto Rico, to work in the Mount Hope Mine, near Dover. This solicitation was the beginning of a Latino community in that city and in the surrounding area.
With the end of the war and the establishment of direct air flights from San Juan to New York City, an increasing number of Puerto Ricans, following the example of wartime workers, sought jobs on the continent, at first heavily in New York City, but soon afterward there was a steady flow into New Jersey. A rapid growth of population in Puerto Rico, limited job opportunities, and low pay made New York and New Jersey attractive. By the mid-1950s there were some 5,000 Puerto Ricans in Hoboken and Jersey City, some 2,500 in Perth Amboy, and growing numbers in Newark, Elizabeth, Lodi, and Garfield. In 1960 there were some
55.000 Puerto Ricans in New Jersey. This migration was the largest influx of new people into the state in the 15 years after World War II. Despite the fact that many Puerto Ricans returned to their island temporarily or permanently the number of Puerto Ricans continued to markedly increase in New Jersey: from
136.000 in 1970 to 388,000 in 2005. While this population spread throughout the state, it grew most strongly in its early bases in Hudson and Essex counties, and in Passaic, Bergen, and Union counties.
The next major influx of Latinos into New Jersey came from Cuba. It began slowly during the 1950s, when several thousand Cubans left Cuba for economic reasons or to escape from the corrupt and repressive regime of Fulgencio Batista. The number of Cubans in the state grew from a little more than 1,000 to 5,500 during that decade. A considerable portion of them settled in Hudson County, and particularly in Union City, because of available work and low housing costs.
Then, in the late 1950s a revolt in Cuba led by Fidel Castro overthrew the Batista government. However, when Castro became increasingly Communist and confiscated the property of professionals and other affluent citizens, there began a large scale movement of Cubans coming to the United States, eventually numbering approximately 1 million people. In 1962 the U.S. government enacted the Cuban Refugee program, which provided limited financial assistance, child welfare funds, food stamps, health care, and aid for education and vocational training especially for those fleeing the Communist Castro regime. Though most Cubans settled in Florida, a sizeable portion came to the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area. A considerable number joined fellow Cubans in Union City and Hudson County, and some went to Newark, Elizabeth, and Bergen counties. There were 59,000 Cubans in New Jersey by 1970 and 68,000 by 1980.
Although many of the earlier refugees from Cuba were from the professional and upper classes, an increasing number thereafter came from the middle and working classes. This was particularly true of Cubans who came through the Mariel boatlift in 1980. Several thousands of them came to New Jersey. Despite the aging of the New Jersey Cuban population and the movement of some to Florida and other parts of the United States, there were 77,000 foreign-born Cubans in New Jersey in 2005. A number, particularly of the second generation, had moved from urban centers to New Jersey suburbs.
There have been a small number of Mexicans in New Jersey since the early days of the state, and their numbers grew only slowly in the years following World War II from 598 foreign-born Mexicans in 1950 to 2,785 in 1980. But then the Mexican population in New Jersey grew very rapidly, to a total of 103,000 in 2000 and 164,000 in 2005. This made Mexicans the second-largest Latino population in New Jersey, after the Puerto Ricans. Similarly, the Dominicans numbered only 313 in 1960 and 2,602 in 1970, but their population grew rapidly in the subsequently decades: to 35,660 in 1990 and 159,000 in 2005.
From South America the largest numbers came from Colombia (40,000 in 1990 and a total of 87,000 in 2005), Ecuador (21,000 in 1990 and a total of 74,000 in 2005), and Peru (21,000 in 1990). In addition, smaller numbers of migrants from every Latin American nation settled in New Jersey in the second half of the twentieth century. In 1990 there were 15,709 Haitians; 13,360 El Salvadorans; 6,469
Hondurans; 6,326 Trinidadians & Tobagonians; 3,951 Costa Ricans; 3,313 Nicaraguans; 2,529 Panamanians; 9,532 Brazilians; 8,162 Argentines; 4,837 Uruguayans; 4,181 Chileans; 2,473 Venezuelans; and 1,079 Bolivians.
By 2005 the total number of counted Latinos in New Jersey had reached 1,307,000. Of this number 44 percent were foreign born. Further, it has been estimated that some 45 percent of the state’s approximately 150,000 undocumented residents in 2000 were Latino, with the largest number coming from Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Haiti, Peru, Guatemala, and Honduras. Thus, at the beginning of the twenty-first century the total Latino population in New Jersey was a little more than 20 percent of the state’s nearly 8 million people.