Puerto Rican Diaspora


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My grandmother Luisa Hernandez Terc, migrated to New York City in 1950 from Puerto Rico. She came over at the age of thirty, with hopes of being able to obtain gainful employment, live in favorable condition, and provide a comfortable life for herself and her family. Along with thousands of migrants from Puerto Rico to cities and town on the mainland, my grandmother planted the seed for success for her immediate and future generations to benefit from.

Puerto Ricans have been migrating to the United State mainland since the late 19th century. Under the Spanish colonial rule, many Puerto Rican merchants traveled and settled along the eastern seaboard of the Unites States. .  As early as 1820, merchants had established trade agreements between New York City and the island of Puerto Rico. Cities such as Bridgeport, C.T., Boston, M.A., New Orleans, L.A, and Tampa F.L would soon follow. In addition to merchants, many people left the island in search of work and sometimes as political exiles, struggling for independence from the Spanish thrown.   Under the colonial rule cash crops such as sugar was being produced and sold to the United States.  Cigar makers were prominent among early migrants, mainly because of their political activism.   They settled in big cigar manufacturing cities like New York City, New Orleans, Philadelphia, and Tampa.

In 1898 the United States acquired Puerto Rico at the end of the Spanish-Cuban-American War.  The U.S. and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, where the US obtained PR in place of monetary compensation for its costs in prosecuting the war. This Puerto Rico became a territory of the US with out ever involving the actual people of Puerto in any way.  Once under the U.S. rule, Puerto Ricans were limited to participate in running their own government.  Amongst other privileges denied, Puerto Ricans did not have a voting representation in U.S. Congress, and were basically denied their basic rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.  By making Puerto Rico a part of the U.S. monetary system, the Foraker Act of 1900 prohibited Puerto Rico from negotiating treaties with other countries or determining their own tariffs. All goods had to be transported in US owned shipping. This changed Puerto Rico’s economy drastically.  Puerto Rico moved from a selling and trading with other countries to only producing cash crops and selling it to one market, the U.S.  By 1910 they were the twelfth largest consumer of U.S. goods in the world. This change to export led growth and producing cash crops as a main export, to one market, reduced family households the ability to meet their basic needs.   \Where once they were once able to grow food for their own home consumptions, food was now imported.  The U.S. policymakers declared Puerto Rico’s wows on overpopulation rather than it being imposed by new US laws.  In 1901, Governor Charles Allen described negative attitudes towards the “simple peasants” who “prefer to remain in idlessness until someone solicited their services.” (Whalen, pg 7)  In 1915, Governor Arthur Yager stated “ There is much wretchedness and poverty among the masses of the people of Porto Rico” continuing expressing that he does “not hesitate to express my belief that the only really effective remedy is the transfer of large numbers of Porto Ricans to some other regions.” (Whalen, pg 8) In 1917 the Jones-Shafoth Act declared all Puerto Ricans to be U.S. citizens, allowing them to travel freely between the U.S. mainland and the island.


1917 Boston Globe Newpaper Article

This is a screen shot of a Boston Globe article from 1917 describing how Porto Rico is now apart of the United States.  This article came from the ProQuest Historical Newspaper Archive.



Puerto Ricans thus migrated first to Hawaiian sugar plantations where they were being exploited as a way of cheap labor for American corporations. The route to Hawaii took them by ship to New Orleans, and then by train to California, and then by ship to Hawaii.  Many Puerto Ricans did not reach their final destination, choosing to ‘escape’ and settle in other surrounding major cities.  After the initial push for migration, and the 1917 law granting full citizenship to Puerto Ricans, they migrated to many cities.

The first wave of Puerto Ricans left the island in search of a solution to their economic burdens. In between World War 1 and World War 2, the United States closed immigration to Europeans, now making Puerto Ricans a favored source of cheap labor. New York City became a favored haven for many Puerto Rican natives searching for a better life.  Between 1920 and 1940 the Puerto Rican population in the United States grew from 12,000 to 70,000. Companies such as the American Manufacturing Company,  a rope factory in Brooklyn, recruited women and often whole families. They were given contracts to work at the factory where they believed they were achieving economic elevation.

My grandmother, Luisa Terc, was born in Puerto Rico on August 22, 1920. During that time a wave of natural disasters such as major hurricanes hit the island, crippling the already destitute.  She was born to Spanish police chief Joquain Hernandez and Margarita Victoria Salas Turrino from Venezuela.  He was on her his second marriage, with whom they had a total of five children, my grandmother being the eldest. The family was well to do, owning land and ranches.  At the age of eleven, both of her parents died. Being the eldest she suddenly assumed the role of having to take care of her younger siblings. She was forced to drop out of school and domesticate herself quickly.  She moved in with her eldest half sister of her father’s pervious marriage, where she assumed all of the household duties such as cooking and cleaning, and she was made responsible for taking care of her younger newly orphaned siblings. It is unknown exactly what she did before migrating to the mainland, but I can assume it was hard work. She eventually immigrated to New York City during the third wave of immigration to the city.  She arrived to Manhattan in 1950 to work as a seamstress in a Garment District factory.  She rented a room from her sister Cruz when she first arrived and worked in the Garment District until she was married.  She met my grandfather, Juan Terc, at a popular nightclub on the upper West Side of Manhattan.  My grandfather says it was love at first sight, and when he saw her sitting with her family he immediately went over, introduced himself, and sat with them. He was with his brothers and sisters, and they all became life long friends starting that very day.  One of my grandfather’s sisters, Carmen Luisa, later married one of my grandmother’s younger brothers Nito.


PR Newpaper article Chicago Defender 1962

This article was printed May 3, 1962 by the Chicago Defender.  It was located in ProQuest Historical Newspapers Archive


The Puerto Rican Diaspora made its peak from the 1950s- 1980s in New York City.  Many came and settled in areas such as Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My grandmother came to New York City and stayed with her sister on the Upper West Side of Manhattan known as Washington Heights.



Here is a google map of some of the places she lived and visited after arriving to New York City in 1950.


As with many newly migrants from Puerto Rico, my grandmother had to make a way for herself and her family. She worked as a seamstress in an industrial factory, as did many Puerto Rican women during those times. Even though the pay was low, the economic elevation from their previous conditions allowed them to experience comforts they were unable to afford on the island. After marrying my grandfather, they conceive their first child, Robert Juan Terc, born in 1955.  My uncle was born with a hole in his heart and was a sickly child growing up. My grandmother stayed home him, caring for his health. My mom, Lourdes Rosa Terc, was born five years later in 1960. My grandparents often visited popular locations such as the Hamilton Theatre. The structure of the building still stands today. Unknown to my mother at the time when she moved there in 1990, she still currently lives in the building adjacent to the Theatre her parents frequently visited.


http://www.historypin.com/map/#!/geo:40.829454,-73.938567/zoom:16/date_from:1840-01-01/date_to:1950-12-31/fs/dialog:6165300/tab:details/ »



This is a picture found on HistoryPin.com of the Hamilton Theatre in 1915.  My grandparents visited this theatre often in the 1950s.



This is a picture of the Hamilton Theatre in 2011. This picture was found on flickr commons.


After my mom entered elementary school, my grandmother decided to pursue her own ambitions. She enrolled in a GED program and upon completion she became a teachers aid the elementary school my mother attended. I too later would attend that elementary school.  My grandmother worked with the NYC Board of Education until 1992 when she officially retired at the age of seventy two.  While working she enrolled in BMCC community college in downtown Manhattan where she received her Associate Degree in Liberal Arts. She graduated at the age of sixty nine.  Luisa Hernandez Terc died on February 2006 of breast cancer. She was seventy five years old.




This Ngram View visualization shows how many times the word Puerto Rico was used in books from 1800-2010.  The chart reaches it peak towards the end of the 1940s, symbolizing their importance and relevance to labor during war eras.

Puerto Ricans migrated into the United States for mainly for economic independence and to be used as cheap labor for major cities such as New York.  With the inaction of the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917 Puerto Ricans were made full citizens of the United States, allowing them to travel freely. My grandmother, Luisa Hernandez Terc, managed to come over during the third major immigration wave to New York City in search of a better life for herself and her family.  I am forever grateful at her strength and perseverance to excel and make sure her linage did the same. As it stands today both of her children earned higher education degrees at Universities and all of her grandchildren are college graduates.