Community and Migration in Hartford and their Connections
In times of need, humans will go far and wide in search of a remedy. In the case of the United States when in need of workers on farms such as tobacco, they searched as far as Puerto Rico. As a result of the US government paying for the Puerto Rican migration to the mainland for work, many tight knit communities were born in agricultural areas, such as Hartford due to the similar situations all the residents faced and the ability to come together when times are tough.
It is important to begin by highlighting the reasons why Puerto Rican migration blew up in the 1950’s and 60’s in the United States. The first major reason was landlessness in Puerto Rico. The people living on the island and working on plantations (mostly sugar) were barely making any money. In some areas they made as little as forty-seven cents a day, where in some areas they were making a maximum of seventy-five cents to one dollar for a 10-12 hour work day. The population was incredibly dense and the island is very small, meaning jobs were limited and money was scarce as it was. The few people who could claim jobs were not making enough salary to put food on the table. Secondly, though the largest source of jobs and income for Puerto Rican’s was the sugar agriculture, there was a lack of industry for the most part. Because of the amount of people on the island and the lack of jobs, everything that could be produced should have been produced there on the island- food, clothing, equipment, etc. However, almost everything besides sugar was imported, meaning they were paying money and not giving any jobs. Unemployment was incredibly high. Finally, one of the most important causes of Puerto Rican migration to the United States was
Operation Bootstrap. Operation Bootstrap was a tactic used by the United States to entice the people of Puerto Rico to move to the mainland for work, which meant many people began leaving for more opportunities. In the decade of the 60’s, 450,000 people migrated to the United States under Operation Bootstrap. Because of this movement, that left very few people on the island and many more people in the same situation on the mainland USA.
One of the interviewee’s we worked with was Benito, one of the kitchen staff working in Mather Dining Hall at Trinity College. We learned he came to the States over thirty years ago under a plan where the government paid for his travel and he came to work with a company in New Jersey. He stayed for a while, however ended up here in Hartford working in the kitchen. He has three grown sons and unfortunately lost his wife who was also here about two years ago. While coming here he said he traveled with a group of people who were going to be working at the same place as him, and his goal was to assimilate and find happiness the same ways the Italians and Irish did in the United States. He said he very much enjoys the US but has grown a fondness of Hartford over New Jersey.
The closeness of the community in Hartford is one of the most important aspects of the city. After taking several walks and meeting many different people and businesses within Frog Hollow and the North End, it is clear that everyone has a deep rooted and reliable support system within the people around them. When meeting the people who own and run Aquí Me Quedo, a small Puerto Rican restaurant in Hartford, it was mentioned that the Puerto Rican community finds a lot of comfort and happiness in being around people with similar cultures and situations as them. The greatest example is this year when Hurricane Maria wrecked the island of Puerto Rico. Many of the residents of the city have family still on the island, therefore many were afraid and unsure of how to help/what to do about the crisis. Aquí Me Quedo hosted many fundraisers, including
donations of not only nonperishable goods but clothes, toothbrushes, etc. Upon asking the owners what the best part of the community was, they said that it was no matter whether you were Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican, etc, you always knew the people around you had your back. When entering the restaurant during the disaster on the island, people began referring to each other by name and asking about specific members of their families and the situations they faced. Being in a small community with many people who are facing the same day-to-day struggles brings people together in a way unlike anything else. The same is arguable for the Puerto Ricans, like Benito, who came to the U.S. paid for by the government to work. The process of coming over here with a small group, missing the ways of life on the island and your family, adjusting and assimilating to a new society, and dealing with many new aspects such as weather and climate are very hard and it brings you so much closer to the people you are with. After all the interviews I conducted, every person said the community in Hartford and Frog Hollow is “close-knit”. This is due to the lives they live every day and the things they face and have faced together.
The proximity of the Hartford community is undeniable, and shows through in the toughest of times. Their tight bond from the island to the mainland is no coincidence; it has to do with the struggles and efforts shown by the Puerto Ricans as they struggled to assimilate here when the U.S. government paid for their migration when they needed more money. As a result of their shared experience, the community grew inseparable and close knit; something that is hard to find in other cities.
Ayala, César J. “The Decline of the Plantation Economy and the Puerto Rican Migration of the 1950s.” 1996, pp. 1–27.,