Puerto Ricans in New York Struggling...Still

Friday, November 20, 2009


Puerto Ricans are some of the most prominent figures in New York politics and culture, so some people are surprised when they hear that, overall, Puerto Ricans are among the poorest and least educated New Yorkers. Almost a third in New York are living in poverty. Here are some of the figures.

In New York City, 31.2 percent of Puerto Ricans live in poverty, compared with 27.8 percent of Latinos more broadly and 18.9 percent of the New York City population overall. Nationally, 22 percent of Puerto Ricans are in poverty, versus 19 percent of Latinos overall (from the American Community Survey via the Pew Hispanic Center).


Of course, when you look closely at the numbers you can see that other Latino groups are struggling as well –- more Dominican and Mexican families in New York, for example, are living below the poverty line than Puerto Rican families.


But note that the margin of error for these stats from the 2005-2007 American Community Survey is big enough to put these groups basically on a par with each other. So what’s most surprising is that these groups are so close, given the supposed advantages Puerto Ricans have: They’re all citizens (because Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth of the United States), they’ve been in New York longer (most Dominicans and Mexicans immigrated to New York more recently), and a higher percentage speak English.

As for education: only 31% of Puerto Ricans have completed beyond a high school education as compared to 77% of Whites, 71% of Blacks (including African immigrants) and 42% of all Latinos. (From the American Community Survey via the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College)

Among Puerto Ricans between the ages of 24 and 32, only 16 percent have completed college, even though almost a quarter have at least one college-educated parent. And almost one in five Puerto Ricans that age with at least one college-educated parent dropped out of high school. (From the book 'Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age').

I decided to do this story after going to see Phillip Kasinitz of the CUNY Graduate Center to talk about his book 'Inheriting the City: The Children of Immigrants Come of Age.' As part of his comprehensive study, Kasinitz compared the children of Latino immigrants to the children of native born Puerto Ricans and he says he too was surprised to find that Puerto Ricans were experiencing less success educationally and professionally than many Latino immigrant groups.

Of course, when I went to speak with some of the leading thinkers on Puerto Rican issues, they said, 'Duh!' But they said people don’t want to talk about this issue. Angelo Falcon of the National Institute for Latino Policy said the issues of Puerto Ricans have become 'invisible,' especially as immigration issues dominate the political and academic dialogue around Latinos.

That’s how this story was born. Please contribute to this conversation by posting your comments below – there’s much to debate.


More in:

Comments [42]

Jeffc1 from NYC

As a puerto rican, we have to agree that its true. Puerto Ricans are lazy.

More than 80% of children in Puerto Rico live in high-poverty areas

Puerto Ricans in NY among the top hispanic groups in poverty (right behind Dominicans who are #1).

Puerto Rico economy in shambles:

They are lazy. Why? Puerto Ricans can easily come to the US, and work almost immediately. They have Social Security Numbers and can benefit from all social programs. Yet… they don’t succeed. Every other hispanic and minority culture has it easier than Puerto Ricans. THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO REASON FOR PUERTO RICANS TO BE AT THE BOTTOM.

Feb. 21 2014 04:45 PM

As a born a raised American but Prican by inheritance, now at 48 I could say that the Puerto Ricans migrating to the States nowadays are way different then there ancestors. back in the day the migrants from Puerto Rico came here with a vision of working hard, educating thereself , which is way different than the Pricans who migrate out here now, are coming to inflict more into our already high deficit, for instance I know of some that come to America and start there SSI journey once they are approve for that federal check they appoint someone stateside and go back to the Island to recieve a free check, oh yes they come back everytime they have to update there paperwork, the one's migrating today do not come to work or get educated , they come to get a cash welfare check and to have as many kids as possible to keep the DSS check growing, I despite all these before mention, I believe they are giving the hard working Pricans a very bad rap.// If I were President either you become State or thats it for Federal Funding, and there should be a clause in the papers which states if you have not live in America you have no right to come at 65 to request any benefits , those should be given to you in The Island Of Puerto Rico. How can our Goverment be so dumb and not see what these new migrants are all about ............

Feb. 11 2013 12:57 PM
Elles from Europe

Louise when you refer to people of color i allways have to ask myself , What color is that?
White people aren't really white aren't they? Maybe you refer to the people with blankets over their heads ? But that's another theme.

Mar. 02 2012 05:02 PM
Jose from Bayamon, Puerto Rico

Dear Friennds:

My name is José López from Bayamón, Puerto Rico. I am contacting you to see if you could help.

The United Nations' (UN) Decolonization Committee is in its third decade of trying to eradicate colonialism in the world. In that effort, it holds a hearing every year around June (the month New York City holds its Puerto Rican Day Parade) to discuss Puerto Rico's colonial situation.

It would be helpful if in next year's discussion there could be a full house in the hearing room with people interested in the decolonization of Puerto Rico. This hearing is not well publicized since some people would like to maintain the status quo forever.

Could your organization spread the word out to your people so that those interested in attending the June 2012 hearing could do so? The exact date has not yet been determined by the UN.

Thank you for your time in this matter!

José M. López Sierra

Oct. 15 2011 12:47 PM

I was born and raised in NYC and right after Hight School I move to Puerto Rico. My spanish wasn't too good but I learned the language. I went to College and became a Teacher. Why? I felt had no where to go when I moved here. I realized every young person had goals in PR, after HS the next step was college. Those whe didn't were the few. Now there's a bit more but most do end up in college with a degree. As a parent, my daughter went to College, one the a Masters, going on to her Doctors Degree, the other on her way to her BA. It's up to the parents to make sure there children go to school and stay there. Get a degree and become Professionals. Maybe there won't be so much poverty among the latin community! Parents should take responsiblity and make better citizens of there children!!

Jan. 03 2010 10:13 AM
Victoria Santiago

The wold over colonized peoples share some common symptoms: disproportionate psychiatric/psychological disorders, high alcohol or illegal drug abuse, high suicide rates, low educational ambitions etc. The closest ethnic group suffering from the results of colonization similar to those affecting Puerto Ricans are Native Americans.
To begin understanding what ails us Puerto Ricans I suggest reading “The Wretched of the Earth” in which Franz Fanon, a psychiatrist born and raised in the French colony of Martinique, details the psychology of the colonized. For a nutshell account of the book go to

Dec. 25 2009 05:40 PM
Sammy Mendez

Hi I am a highschool student at The BeaconSchool in midtown New York and I am writing a research paper on Puerto Rican Immigration to New York and their struggle over the years as a community. I would like to know if there is anyone who is familair with the topic that i would be able to interview or ask a few questions. This would really help me writing a more precise paper with different opinions and knowldege of different people familiar with the topic. If anyone would please email me at so that i can ask a few questions, it would be greatly appreciated.!

Dec. 06 2009 02:17 PM
Anthony W. Davivd

I think that a alot of Puerto Ricans who have been successfull haved moved from the city out of these Naighborhoods, Like my Wife she is educated.

Nov. 24 2009 09:50 AM

I am working and serving a sentence within the margins of error as a Puerto Rican born in Puerto Rico but raised in
the poorest communities in Brooklyn.

Which are the predominantly poor working class communities? Most of the poor communities are those being converted into enclaves for gentrification. The name and history of the communities are changed in the process such as El Barrio being called Spa Ha for Spanish Harlem or Loisaida being called East Village while massive displacment is taking place due to the rent and cost of living increases due to the chronic crisis of capitalism for the poor, to argue over who has contributed less or more is useless to young people who are out of school and
have economically little or no viable options or alternatives but to become part of corporate america or join the military or wind up as a statistic on the unemployment line or worse face imprisonment or death. Inspiration is one third perspiration, one third cooperation and one third collaboration.

Nov. 24 2009 09:16 AM
Alberto O. Cappas

Second Note: I'm 63 years old, Puerto Rican, born in Puerto Rico, raised in New York State; and unfortunately, I come from a generation that failed to pass on a system of positive values and standards to our children and youth. We failed to properly pass the torch... and now, they are paying the price. It is time for us to get to work, which means: Let's look in the mirror, let us carve out a new vision and agenda, based on education and self-business development, and let us elect responsible individuals into political office, but please, not individuals that come with a re-cycling mindset and with a poverty-pimp agenda. We have too many of them already! As a hard-working Puerto Rican in NYC, I want to see my tax money properly invested in our children and youth: EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION.....

Nov. 24 2009 12:15 AM

What is poverty?Having to get your food at a food bank but still owning a color tv at home.
Puertoricans have low self steems.
I know because it's something we grow up with.
We learned english as a second language because we are a commonwealth of the United States.We are american citizens but a lot of Americans don't know were PR is.
Puertoricans are proud of being Puertoricans in Puerto Rico but outside we allways carry this feeling of not belonging.You are living in a foreign country were you aren't completely accepted.If you look into yourself you know is true.
I live in Europe and I'm also a minority group here.I graduated from the university but I can't get a job in what I study.
I don't live in poverty but it could be possible if I loose my job,if I loose my job.

The American dream no longer lives.
I have seen documentaries of rasism in the USA
and it's as bad or worst that here in Europe.
That puertoricans in NY are among the pooreer
so what! If you compare our poverty with the rest in America it doen't compares.
If you compare it with other minority groups like dominicans or mexicans we are lower.
A solution would be stopping welfare and a law were is mandatory to accept any kind of job
even working at Mc Donalds if is necessary.Another solution would be the death penalty for
possesion of drugs or drugs related crimes.

Nov. 23 2009 04:09 PM

Despite its weaknesses, I was glad to hear a major news outlet call attention to the forgotten struggles of Puerto Ricans. With our formerly Puerto Rican-named institutions now calling themselves "Latino" and the focus on immigration status, I'm glad that someone has remembered the Puerto Ricans. Yes, many of us have "made it", but we know that too, too many have not and that those of us who have made it, had to struggle quite hard to do it (and personally, to rely on the "social welfare" system derided by others because that's what helped us put food on the table while we struggled up and out of one of the most dangerous and poverty-stricken areas in NYC). I think it's too easy to say Puerto Ricans aren't trying hard enough or do not value education. I think the state of Puerto Ricans in NYC brings up the bigger issues of what keeps people poor and what role systemic racism, poor education and segregation play in all of this. Research indicates that 2nd and 3rd generation Latino immigrants experience the sharpness of racism and begin to lose confidence in achieveing the "American dream" the more they become acculturated. The protective factors of their home cultures are lost and there is nothing in their American neighborhoods to replace it. Puerto Ricans, mostly far (in years)from their native cultures, are in a sense the canaries in the coal mine, telling us that there is something "rotten" in the nation. That's probably why we are already seeing Dominicans (who have been with us longer than the WNYC report seems to indicate)also stuck in poverty. Although I don't want to detract from the need for individual agency (as noted above by Angel), I think we have to be clear that even having that conversation with kids who are stuck in the worst performing schools and languishing in poverty-stricken homes, is not as easy as having that conversation with kids enjoying intact families, good meals and clean air.

Nov. 23 2009 02:19 PM
Ron F.

Growing up in NYC (The Bronx)as a Puerto Rican, was a harrowing experience, and a trying one at that.
I grew up on the gritty Bronx streets along side various races most notably (African - Americans)which helped to hone a well rounded cultural experience, bringing forth rich & rewarding personal friendships.
As I was welcomed Into the households of these different races I could (painfully)see how me being Puerto Rican brought about a certain discerning look from the older inhabitants of the households.
It was as if the cat had drug a mouse it caught in the alley, into the sterilized premises.
The once overs spoke in volumes, as each stare (from the soles of my shoes to the fine detail of my facial hair) made their eyes emit hateful rays of disapproval.
I can go on all day about how stereotypes, and the sheer ignorance of our society have taken up unlawful residence in the dark crevices of my mind & soul robbing me of self - respect, and worth - but I wont.
I want to really touch base on what I feel is the underlying cause of the perceived notion that Puerto Ricans are just flat out lazy, colonized, and all the other call words of intellectual violence & propaganda.
We just like you & yours - aspire, dream, hurt,and yes (have ambition).
Puerto Ricans have been an integral part of New York City & America in whole,since the late 1800's ( yes that long).
When my ancestors came here with bright eyes and bushy tails, there were only two objectives in their agenda, and those were family,and hard work.
Before there were any day laborers,child labor atrocities, and all other American labor violations, there were the Puerto Ricans - who filled all the jobs deemed undesirable by the upper class.
Puerto Ricans, were one of the first to endure horrific factory conditions,and racism so blatant that it would have been more dignified to be shot by a firing squad, than to be on the receiving end of such vile, uncivilized ethnic cleansing.
Young Puerto Rican women were made into human guinea pigs, so that big drug companies could test birth control pills (which inherently caused major physiological & biological anomalies), thus causing more blunt trauma to an already gashing socio-economic wound that left the Puerto Rican spirit bleeding profusely.
Every major war the U.S.A has participated in - it would always count on Puerto Rican soldiers to be grunts, and carry out it's objectives successfully, because of the sheer courage & loyalty that is inherent in the Puerto Rican bloodline.
Many races In the U.S.A seem to willfully forget that many of the freedoms they enjoy here, are because of Puerto Ricans going off to foreign lands & dying so that the constitution may endure, and that democracy can prevail.
In the advent of social programs, I do too agree that It made many (Puerto Ricans) young & old lazy, and complacent.
But sadly, some Puerto Rican's (like other races as well)are so disenfranchised, that the only weapon of choice for remedying the challenging survival realities here, are welfare.
The contingent of Puerto Ricans that are still living in poverty in NYC, and the rest of the United States, are more than likely inheritors of this phenomenom,whereas the only family jewels that are passed on to the next generation, are sadly not jewels, but a cycle of dysfunction,emotional decay,and the address to the local welfare office.
Alot of the same upper class citizens of America who have decade after decade degraded anyone surviving off of social services, are now finding solace & comfort in it, as they now have to resort to feeding themselves & their children with these same services, alias (Welfare).
The economic ruin that you (the advantaged)are now enduring - is the same economic ruin that this contingent(Puerto Ricans), face decade after decade.
In closing, i would like to personally thank WNYC for allowing this forum, and to say that I am proud to be Puerto Rican in mind, body & soul.
Only our heavenly creator's judgement upon me is what matters in my life,and I pray that maybe one day we will finally evolve into the civilized human beings that we were meant to be.
Be well one & all.......

Nov. 23 2009 02:08 PM
grisselle Rivera-Mucciolo

I live in NY and I am from PR moved here 10 years ago after finishing University in PR. What I see, is that what my grandfather use to call a "sub-culture" referring to the puertorricans who lived from the government, is now the main stream culture in the Island.With a depreciation for moral values like hard work, family and consideration to others.I am sorry but there are no excuses for Puertorricans in NY to live in poverty conditions or to abandon school. My family and all my friends are from PR and they all completed their education and currently live very succesfull lifes here in the US and in PR.We new the government had help, but that was never an option in my family.This are values that our families pass on to us so we would pass it to our children.I go to PR once or twice a year to visit my family and my mother who owns a shop in Old San Juan and I see the lack of respect for education, family and hard work among the main stream culture in the Island. I see how this people do not appreciate the homes that the government( in other words we the people who work hard who pay taxes)had given them for free. If you drive near the projects in PR you will see a horrible filthy picture.Why? Well,In my opinion when a child is raise with no discipline and values.Where the parents are always giving him material things without him earning them. Without teaching that child the value of working hard to purshase a house or to study hard to become the best professional he can be. If the parents do not teach the child this values. This child is going to become a looser or a monster who will do anything to get easy money. In my opinion,that is what welfare has done to this puertorricans here in NY and also in PR. Politicians should stop giving handouts to the masses just to get votes.Government aid should only be for people with disabilities and for crisis situations.We should be responsable of our own success in life, not the government.There are no excuses for puertorricans in NY or in PR to be unsuccesfull, leave school or live from the government handouts.

Nov. 23 2009 01:10 PM

Two things I think have contributed to this PR statistic. A sense of entitlement shared by some in the PR/ Latino community and lack of education. Over the last few decades, a sense of entitlement has been perpetuated by misguided Puerto Ricans. The purpose of gov’t is protect your rights as a citizen, not to provide everything for you. If all is being given to you, why work? Why sacrifice? The entitlement mentality kills personal ambition, which breeds mediocrity in communities. Mediocrity leads to utter poverty. A lack of Education (in all forms) amongst Puerto Ricans/ Latinos is another contributing factor. Your chances of having a higher earning capacity as an unskilled, uneducated individual is slim to none. Dropping out of school early to earn a minimum wage is certainly not going to lead prosperity. I think PR should be solely independent of the US. Of course, Puerto Ricans would have be ready to carry their own weight. And with a decent portion of the population expecting “handouts”, that may make keeping an independent Puerto Rico afloat a great challenge.

Nov. 23 2009 02:30 AM

Very good post Luis. Two things I think have contributed to this PR statistic. A sense of entitlement shared by some in the PR/ Latino community and lack of education. Over the last few decades, a sense of entitlement has been perpetuated by misguided Puerto Ricans. The purpose of gov't is protect your rights as a citizen, not to provide everything for you. If all is being given to you, why work? Why sacrifice? The entitlement mentality kills personal ambition, which breeds mediocrity in communities. Mediocrity leads to utter poverty. A lack of Education (in all forms) amongst Puerto Ricans/ Latinos is another contributing factor. Your chances of having a higher earning capacity as an unskilled, uneducated individual is slim to none. Dropping out of school early to earn a minimum wage is certainly not going to lead prosperity. I think PR should be solely independent of the US. Of course, Puerto Ricans would have be ready to carry their own weight. And with a decent portion of the population expecting "handouts", that may make keeping an independent Puerto Rico afloat a great challenge.

Nov. 23 2009 02:27 AM
Victor M. Rodriguez

I am always surprised of what little Puerto Ricans and many successful Latinos know of their own historical experience in the U.S. But in many ways the way we teach history (or not) in the United States (Loewen, Lies my Teacher Told Me)tend to be ideologically tainted by the meritocracy myth. It is ironic that in public housing projects Puerto Ricans in the early 1950s were described as hard working respectful tenants and when the city began its transformation to th post-industrial stage they were describe in not so glowing tones. Puerto Ricans developed institutions (which now benefit other Latinos) but these unfortunately, have not kept up with the more challenging issues raised by a new economy. Also, let's face it, from the stories my wife tells me and what I have read, New York is hostile toward Puerto Ricans almost as much as Los Angeles is hostile against Mexicans (Mayor Villaraigoza was elected by distancing from his "Latinoness." Puerto Ricans (even those with similar background as Boricuas in NY do better elsewhere e.g. Texas, California etc.

Nov. 22 2009 10:54 AM
Eddie Rivera

Although some folks have commented on the impact that migration of successful PRs has had on NY PR demographics, it has not been a telling part of the conversation.

The NYC population has increased to 8.4million, while the majority of in-migration to the city has been poor and rich, the out migration of most folks from NY has largely been middle class people. I think this observation applies to Puerto Rican net migration as well, although I'm middle class and live in NY.

Alberto, if many PR institutions in NY support autonomy or independence, they are still in the minority because more American institutions support PR assimilation and in all honesty, people don't have to assimilate in order to be successful.

Nov. 22 2009 08:47 AM
Emma Chaves

The "Puerto Rican problem" is a topic we (Puerto Ricans born on the Island or here in the States) discuss often. All the comments entered contain at least a kernel of truth.
My best opinion is that the first step in reaching a solution is to dissect the problem, make the community aware of its causes, and reeducate the citizenry. To this end, you have made a great contribution with your article.

I have written several short stories depicting aspects of the Puerto Rican experience.
Ms. McCune: May I send you an unpublishd short story-1500 words-entitled "Widow at the Wake" which zooms in on this topic? I think you would find it thought-provoking and insightful. TY

Nov. 22 2009 08:40 AM
Ada N. Letelier

Have you taken into consideration the numbers of Puerto Ricans who do not have Spanish last names, e.g. myself. I am married to a Chilean man whose last name is Letlier. My maiden name is Rivera. I am a 100% Puerto Rican born to a Puerto Rican father and a Puerto Ricn mother. This situation has changed drastically. Many women in my family have married men who don't have Hispanic surnames. Many have also moved away (even as far as Chile, where I am presently living with my husband).
Are we counted in any of these surveys or stats. There are many of us in this situation (second, third generation PR's
What about those of us who marry other Latinos, who are not PR but perhaps Dominicans, Mexicans, South or Central Americans). Where are we counted.

I agree with many of the comments expressed above. The issue of Puerto Rican and its "colonial status" in this day and age is outrageous! Our rep in the congress can only sit, hear, I hope join discussions, but cannot vote, again
outrageous. How can we keep on supporting this situation. The "welfare mentality", maybe, but I know of no one in my family who didn't have a hard time when we first came over in the late 40's. More of us made it than not. But, again I think that this reliance on what the US of A is going to do for us, instead of what we as a country can do for ourselves is something that needs to be revisited and discussed, self-determination has got to be our goal, but too sadly lost in the discussion of whether we should become a state or seek independence. I for one opt for statehood, but would engage in any discussion about independence that makes sense for PR. I am concerned about our economic problems on the island and what will happen in the future if we dont develop some forward thinking in this area, first.

My daughter lives in New York and is extremely proud of her Puerto Rican and Chilean roots. We made sure she speaks Spanish and she has visited Puerto Rico and Chile many times. But she is also a proud "estadounidense" or as we say in English "unitedstatedian". Keep me posted I would love to continue this conversation and give as much support as I can. Ada N. Letelier de Rivera

Nov. 22 2009 07:25 AM

When have you EVER listened to a positive story regarding Puerto Ricans on this station? NEVER!!

Don't take my word for it, do your own archive research!

Nov. 22 2009 01:25 AM

This station "WNYC" has a long history of antagonism and marginalizing people of color!

Specifically Puerto Ricans and Latino's in general,

They have virtually no people of color in their programming line up, why is that?

This is not the first time they try to present a degrading story as legitimate news, this has been going on for years, and then they have the hubris to call them selves a public radio station.

Racism is alive and well at WNYC!!

Nov. 22 2009 01:11 AM
Maurice Lacey

Very interesting report! I was enriched by the posts as well. As a Black American of Panamianian decent, I am glad that this issue is being discussed. Growing up in NYC I had many Puerto Rican friends and now professional colleagues. I noticed a distancing from Blacks in regard to identification of social problems such as poverty, discrimination, and racism. However, I knew full well in my heart and mind that both groups were marginalized, discriminated against, and stigmatized. They lived in the same neiborhoods, worked in the same factories, attended the same schools, and used the same social services. But yet there was this disconnect. Rikers Island and the upstate prisons are overflowing with Latino men (mostly Puerto Rican). HIV infection is rampant in Bushwich, Mott Haven, Highbridge, Lower East Side, and Spanish Harlem. In short, the Puerto Rican community has been in crisis for some time, but the community itself was somewhat dormant or in denial. I believe that internalized racial oppression is a contributing factor. The lack of connection with Black activist and social movements has been prolematic for both groups. Fear of offending Whites by being seen with or complaining with Blacks is a possible cause of this. While there have been a few powerful voices of protest in the Puerto Rican community , those individuals were not supported. It must be understood that poverty will lead to social misery. Social misery will lead to poor motivation, behavioral problems, family disintergration, substance abuse, low academic achievement, and a host of other issues that slowly drains a community of its vitality, resources, and hope.

Nov. 21 2009 05:00 PM
Juan A. Baea

To blame America, colonialism, or national status is absurd. The fault lies with the dependency created by the state and the failure that results. I do like the well reasoned comments, by articulate Hispanics.

Nov. 21 2009 03:52 PM
Judith Escalona

Hey, this is America, there is nothing wrong with having a "MAKE A DONATION" button on a web site or a t-shirt or a sneaker. I'm proud to be a Puerto Rican and an American. I took the risk that someone would cynically attach themselves to my mentioning and attempt to undermine my views by this very claim of self-promotion. However, the truth is that I stated my background and work with in order to emphasize: 1. My personal search for knowledge about my culture and community as someone born and raised in the U.S. And 2. The fact that has been around for a substantial period of time, documenting our community, that would give weight to what I had to say.

No one is "blaming" any concept. Why would I anthropomorphize a concept?

The point White misses is that the U.S. has a long history of pathologizing our community through studies. To drive home my point, he actually defends McCune's report by claiming that specific statistics are not available and "blames" the Census Bureau. She's off the hook, according to White, by simply stating that those statistics are obscured by the bureau's nomenclature.

Most importantly, I suggest that a "balanced report" in the media would have to include not only where successful Puerto Ricans have moved to (apparently out of New York City) but also their profile. The title of the report makes a tellingly broad claim "Puerto Ricans in New York ... Struggling Still" and safely redlines the extent of her coverage.

Nov. 21 2009 08:44 AM
Jeff White

To add, Puerto Rican's overwhelmingly voted to become either a state (46%) or no change (50%) in 1998 so the colonially argument is irrelevant when the majority doesn't want a change in status. The other half can come here if they don't like there status. I'm sure millions around the world would give up their homeland to stay 6 months in America. They have lotteries around the world to come here!

Nov. 21 2009 06:13 AM
Jeff White

Judith, I think you are boasting about your website which highlights "Make A Donation" on each topic's landing page. If you listen to the audio of the story which is at the very top of this page, then you would have heard the difficulties in getting statistics from the Census Bureau because they only ask for the broader "Hispanic" category on the Census questionnaire. Blaiming the concept that Puerto Ricans some 3 or 4 generations are still living in as high poverty as later hispanic immigrants is a valid topic by itself. Why hasn't the community gotten out of the projects? As Juan A. Baea pointed out, the social programs championed to help people out have now proven to be the crutch that no one wants to give up. As an aside, the Latino designation used by the politicians to gain political clout has now proven useful in forgetting the struggle of Puerto Ricans still trying to pull themselves out of poverty. I would put some blame on the opportunistic politicians who turn the blind eye to there brethren for political gains.

Nov. 21 2009 06:11 AM
Alberto O. Cappas

This is nothing new to me, a reason I've shy away from the Puerto Rican leadership in NYC, composed of an obsolete attachment to Puerto Rico emotionalism. Just go and check out your Puerto Rican Studies Programs at CUNY, Hunter, etc, and you will find an emotional push for independence; and that is what we are feeding our next generation, instead of passing a torch of enlightment in relation to strategies on becoming economic providers and educators with a sound vision for tomorrow. We need to kill the social-welfare mentality found in the majority of the Puerto Rican community based organizations and its leadership. As Puerto Ricans, We are too liberal oriented without a base of political balance and logic, including a complete absence of backbone to proplerly negotiate and compromise in the political arena/system.

Nov. 21 2009 12:46 AM
Judith Escalona

This is a very personal response to McCune's piece which I found disappointing in being consistent with how our community has been historically imagined. I am the founder of, a web site on the history, culture and politics of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican diaspora. I was born and raised in New York City.

The goal of was precisely to create an online resource where Puerto Ricans could learn about themselves and carry on an exchange among themselves and others worldwide. It is predominantly English, because we are New York based and indeed Nuyorican. has been in existence for 11 years.

My observation and, actually, firsthand experience is that among Puerto Ricans stateside there is a desire to connect with the island and to maintain that relationship -- however tenuous or problematic it may be or seem to be.

While Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico wrestle with the status issue, Puerto Ricans in the U.S. struggle with the identity issue. They are counterparts to the same history, remarkably paralleling one another in relation to the U.S. Leviathan.

Developing has been a journey of personal growth and enrichment as a second generation Puerto Rican. It made me realize that much of what I learned through mainstream media and acquired in school and through hearsay in the streets was mostly misinformation based on ignorance and bias.

What I learned through was that Puerto Ricans are quite the opposite of that naggingly negative image that seems unshakeable.
I learned that the tiny island--the smallest in the Greater Antilles--has been the source of an incredible amount of talent for both the English and Spanish speaking worlds.

While we have not posted much of the overwhelming content we have acquired over the years (through videotaping oral histories, interviews, conferences and other events), a fair amount of it can be seen online. It clearly belies the image of our people that is consistently drummed into our children and the general public.

McCune errs in her good intentions because she is subject to the same perceptual bias our community knows only too well. That bias which appears scrupulous and articulate, quoting studies and statistics, in order to reinforce that all too familiar image of who we are but aren't really. If the "successful" Puerto Ricans have left the inner city then it might be a more balanced report to look at those statistics as well and ask the more important question-- what made the difference?

Nov. 21 2009 12:36 AM
Angel Falcon

I think the scapegoating of social programs and the idea that Puerto Rican colonial status has some marring effect on Puerto Ricans in diaspora is problematic at its face. Most Puerto Ricans in diaspora don't concern themselves with political status per se. Status is a great concern for those on the island. And it is a stretch to indicate that colonial status has any effect on those in diaspora who are for the most 3 or even 4 generations in diaspora. However, there is a colonial mentality of a different sort where, as one poster mentioned, we look to the government as somehow being responsible for our failings and, in turn, as a possible solution to our problems. That creates a different kind of colonial mentality that only breeds false hope. You can't expect things to get better without agency on your own part. One of the best ways to get out from our situation is to empower our children with the proverbial "knowledge of self" and know who it is they are historically and NOT rely on the school system to do it. We need grassroots Puerto Rican historical and cultural education, be it in bomba/plena or in political history in libraries, casitas, dondequiera...when people stop looking to athletes, musicians and the government for hope and look INTERNALLY for inspiration, THEN there can be change.

Nov. 20 2009 09:39 PM

When the broadcaster read the name Jesus as Jesus and not Hey-Suss, she made me laugh.

Nov. 20 2009 09:24 PM
Felix Velazquez

These discussions always remind me of the elephant in the living room. We are born comparing ourselves and we are told over and over again we never quite measure up; It drives and pushes us to succeed and quite too often to failure. I am 62 Y/O Puerto Rican who was brought to New York City when I was 13 years old. It was not talked about it by my father and my grandfather when I was i growing up in Puerto Rico, it is not talked about it here in New York, and it is not talked about it as I travel back and forth to the Island nation. It is a sickness that debilitates our souls and warps our psychic. It is called COLONIZATION. You do not have to go to far to find an example of its warped mirroring, just read carefully between the lines to some of the comments above.
My life experiences and my daly observations, tell me that these stats are not inaccurate, and that as long as the problem is defined by comparing and not by nation building we are doomed to loose the comparison game.

Nov. 20 2009 09:22 PM
Marianne McCune

I am the reporter of this story and I wanted to say just two quick things. One, I am so glad people are posting their comments here. There are many ways to look at these issues and I couldn't fit every interpretation of the statistics into the radio story or the blog post. So I'm thrilled to see you all making the conversation more comprehensive. Two, for anyone who didn't hear the story - it does cover some issues the blog post does not. For example, the reality that many of the more successful Puerto Ricans in New York move out (as mentioned in the first comment above) is, indeed, included in the audio version. If you haven't heard it and want to, it's here -

Meanwhile, thank you for your candid and engaged responses. Please continue!

Nov. 20 2009 08:12 PM

I was born in Texas in 1946 and now live in Los Angeles. Look, let's be honest Latinos share many of the same problems. We also need to understand that Cubans, Mexicans, Dominicanos & Puerto Ricans have some unique issues that they would like addressed. I think it is incumbent for the majority group in a particular region to embrace the the other Latinos. These four goups makeup 90% of the Latinos in America. Some recent positive major milestones we've accomplished together: Defend The Honor (WWII)documentary by Ken Burns, 10,000,000 plus voters in the general election. President Obama! Thanks in part to Rosario Dawson and Voto Latino and of course Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. That's Power. Do we have serious problems? Of course we do, however, we will address them and continue to move forward.

Nov. 20 2009 08:08 PM
L Martinez

My personal experience, having had been of Puerto Rican parents and having had grown up in a Puerto Rican neighborhood, is that education, achievement, ambition, and hard work are generally not encouraged by the culture. As a child I could see first hand the socioeconomic degradedness as a lot of inner city Puerto Ricans easily just avoided school, hung out in the streets, had illigitimate children, and made for an urban climate of domestic violence, ignorance, drunkenness, drug addiction and dependency on welfare (etc). My father said that Puerto Ricans do not have to fear being deported like Cubans and other Latinos do, so they don't worry about calling attention to themselves by behaving wildly. The Hell's Kitchen of the 1960s and 1970s eventually became a more upwardly mobile neighborhood because Arabs, and Hindus took over a lot of the stores and other businesses.

Nov. 20 2009 05:55 PM
Lorenzo Canizares

What is the class basis of this assessment? I am a Cuban-American, and amongst Cuban-American there is a marked difference in education between well-off Cubans and lower class Cubans.
What are we going to do for the lower class members of our Latino community so there is some hope in their future? The discussion needs to address the real life of people, not the panacea we would all like to see.

Nov. 20 2009 05:18 PM
J Rivera

I feel and have always felt that there is a lack of a real desire for success among the Puerto Rican community.

Just as was stated in this piece, none of my friends made it, and I too felt shame as I became successful. To this day in the projects where I was born and raised, no respect is shown for those who are educated.

Just as Juan commented, I beleive that we were destroyed by a history of dependence on social programs. Again, even to this day I can't find anyone with whom I grew up with that doesn't think that the government is somehow responsible for their future. There seems to be a real lack of initiative to lift themselves up out of poverty.

There are real problems, we must not allow ourselves to be forgotten.

Nov. 20 2009 04:40 PM
Pablo Alto

That fact that Puerto Rico is a Commonwealth (read: COLONY)has had a devastating effect on the spirit and psyche of Puerto Ricans here and on the island. This 'neither state nor country' status means that the people do not view themselves as being truly a part of the United States nor fully independent.

Nov. 20 2009 12:40 PM
Monica Rodriguez

You came close to perhaps finding an answer to your questions when you mentioned that sometimes our (Puerto Ricans') problems can mirror African Americans' problems better than other Latinos' issues. Puerto Ricans have a different experience, historically and today, than that of other Latinos. This is not often recognized, even among Latinos.
I'm thrilled to hear this piece highlighting the issue of the status of Puerto Ricans. Thank you for spending your time on this. The questions you ask have stumped me as well. I hope that they are answered soon.

Nov. 20 2009 12:06 PM
Juan A. Baea

The reason for the lack of achievement is because Puerto Ricans were benefited by the social programs of the 60's, such as welfare, housing benefits and housing projects. This resulted in a mentality of dependence, not self reliance. Another casualty of the great society programs, much like African Americans.

Nov. 20 2009 11:51 AM

Thank you for doing this story! I'm disappointed that Puerto Rican leading thinkers do not want to talk about this disparity that still exists. Why ignore the conversation if it can possibly catalyze positive change? If some of us can pull ourselves up then I think it is important to help others and not ignore the problems. (I write this as the daughter of a line of Puerto Ricans who have always worked hard and strived for a better life here - whether running their own businesses or working for community nonprofits.) We all need to help each other...

Nov. 20 2009 11:11 AM
Cynthia Ceilan

What these sorts of studies often fail to mention is the enormous numbers of Puerto Ricans who not only went to college, but enjoyed a significant measure of success in their chosen professions -- and then left the city.

Puerto Ricans, native-born as well as their mainland-born children, have been thriving for decades in great numbers, though not necessarily in NYC.

To say that Puerto Ricans in New York are "still struggling" paints a rather skewed picture of this population. It also fails to recognize that 68.8% of us are educated and living well in this great city.

Nov. 20 2009 10:14 AM

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