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Leonidas Varahidis

on 25 March 2014

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By 1850, Puerto Rico and Cuba were the only two remaining Spanish colonies in the New World.

Puerto Ricans have had a presence in New York since the mid 19th Century, when Puerto Rico was still a Spanish Colony.

The political immigration to New York came to a virtual halt in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, when Puerto Rico became a possession of the United States. About 1,800 Puerto Rican citizens immigrated during this period.

New York and Puerto Rico - Historical Background 19th Century
Puerto Rican-Americans and WWI
In 1902, the US issued new immigration guidelines that changed the status of Puerto Ricans to “foreigners.”

A further decision by the Supreme Court stated that Puerto Ricans were not U.S. citizens but “noncitizen nationals,” an ambiguous designation that left residents of the island in political limbo.

They could neither vote nor were they independent from the United States.

In 1917 the US entered WWI; that same year the government approved an Act giving Puerto Ricans U.S. citizenship.

Conveniently, they could also serve in the army.

Early Discrimination Towards Puerto Rican - Americans
The economic situation on the island of Puerto Rico went from bad to worse when hurricanes destroyed most of its crops, and many Puerto Rican families migrated to New York seeking a better life.

There they faced the same hardships and discrimination experienced by earlier groups of immigrants—Irish, Italians, Jews.

It was difficult to find well paying jobs because of the language barrier and lack of work skills.

Men lucky enough found low paying jobs in factories, or joined the military. Women were generally housewives.
Officer Staff of the Porto Rico Regiment of Infantry (c.1906)
Why did Puerto Ricans move to America is such large numbers during the 1930s?
The Great Depression
Air Travel
The Great Migration:
Puerto Ricans to America in the 1930s
1950s - Present Day in "West Side Story"
Migration reached its peak in the 1950s with 40,000 settled by 1946; 58,500 settled between 1952-53 alone.

Puerto Rican soldiers returning from war took advantage of the GI Bill and went to college. Nevertheless, Puerto Rican – Americans were still facing economic exploitation, discrimination, and racism.

Signs in some restaurants read, “No dogs or Puerto Ricans allowed".

Nevertheless, women left their homes for the factories in record numbers.

In April 1958 the first New York Puerto Rican Day Parade was held in Manhattan.
Listen to the song "America" and read the lyrics below the video

While viewing, what are the types of opposing views between the men and the women?

How has the history of Puero Rican migration formed these opinions?
Rivalries in West Side Story
A small group of newer arrivals from Puerto Rico to the West Side territory

The Sharks feel the need to claim a piece of neighbourhood territory within the West Side
A larger, more established group who see themselves as the legitimate owners of the West Side territory

The Jets do not like that the Sharks are trying to take over some territory
What Other "Rivalries" Exist?
Film Time!
Review the viewing sheet beforehand

Please do not talk during the film (this is one of Mr. Varahidis' pet peeves...

While viewing, try to keep in mind the background of the story, and how it effects character decisions!

Also think of what subjects and themes come to mind
Full transcript