Puerto Ricans in the United States
Learn more about Puerto Ricans in the United States
Stateside Puerto Ricans (also known as “Puerto Ricans in the United States”, “U.S.-based Puerto Ricans”, the "Puerto Rican diaspora", Boricuas or "mainland Puerto Ricans") are persons born or descended from parents or family born in the Caribbean islands of Puerto Rico who reside in the 50 states of the United States, outside of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is a territory ("Commonwealth") of the United States and the residents of the island have been United States citizens since 1917 through an act of the United States Congress (see Jones-Shafroth Act). There are now close to 4 million Puerto Ricans living stateside, with reports that this number exceeds the number of Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico for the first time in 2003.
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Despite having been the subject of considerable research and analysis for much of the second half of the 20th century, the Stateside Puerto Rican community today finds itself beset by myriad stereotypes and misconceptions, both within the United States and in Puerto Rico. (Acosta-Belén, et al. 2000; Rodríguez 1989)) Often seen as poor and apathetic, concentrated in the poor barrios of the older cities of the Northeast, such as New York (Baker 2003; de Genova and Ramos 2004), it is a community that now finds its issues being subsumed and overshadowed by a new interest in Latino immigrants by politicians, policymakers and academia. Many Stateside Puerto Rican leaders complain that their community has become invisible. (Falcón, Haslip-Viera and Matos-Rodríguez 2004)swing vote, especially in Florida, however, has promoted greater interest in this community. (Fears 2004) In response to this new interest, this article is intended to serve as an objective source of information about the demographic and social characteristics of the present day Puerto Rican diaspora living Stateside. This article presents the latest statistics available on this community and maps its major settlements Stateside.
While Stateside Puerto Ricans have a long and proud history of fighting against prejudice and ignorance within the United States, there is a longstanding concern that the people of Puerto Rico are not as informed as they should be about the history and challenges faced by their compatriotas who have ventured Stateside since the mid-1800s. (Duany 2002: 29-32) Dramatic demographic changes are occurring within the Stateside Puerto Rican community, making such a dialogue more relevant and critical than ever.
For example, as this new century began, the growth of the Puerto Rican population in the United States (outside of Puerto Rico) was such there has been much informal speculation about its size relative to that of Puerto Rico. According to the latest figures available from the Census Bureau (unpublished data from their Current Population Survey [CPS]), the Stateside Puerto Rican population in 2003 was estimated at 3,855,608. (Census Bureau 2003)
On the other hand, in 2003, the Census Bureau estimated that the total population of Puerto Rico was 3,878,532. The 2000 Census count found that the Puerto Rican portion of the Island’s population was 95.1 percent of the total (other Latinos made up another 3.4 percent, and non-Latinos made up an additional 1.2 percent). (Census Bureau 2001: 4) By applying this percentage, we estimate that in 2003 the Island’s population that identified itself as Puerto Rican was 3,692,362. If the CPS estimate is correct for the Stateside Puerto Rican population, then by 2003 the Puerto Rican population in the U.S. diaspora, for the first time, exceeded that on the Island — It did so by 163,246 persons, making it 4.4 percent larger.
This demographic development can potentially be major watershed in Puerto Rican history. It represents an instance where Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans find themselves in a unique position. In the current period, the situation in which a country’s diaspora outnumbers its own population appears to be unprecedented in the hemisphere. Looking at Puerto Rico’s total population in 2003 (including non-Puerto Ricans), the Stateside Puerto Rican population is 99.4 percent its size. Among U.S. Latinos, the U.S. Mexican population, the largest Latino group by far (now over 26 million), represents the next largest percentage of its home country population, 25.4 percent. The comparable figures are 14.8 percent for El Salvador, 10.6 percent for the Dominican Republic, 4.7 percent for Honduras, 1.4 percent for Colombia, and so on. (Census Bureau 2004a)
To give a sense of the scale of this Puerto Rican demographic development, the only comparable situation would be that of the Irish, which is so atypical that it underscores the uniqueness of the Puerto Rican case. As a result of the catastrophic potato famine of the 19th century and other developments, today the Irish-American population is close to 6 times (594.7 percent) that of the combined populations of Ireland and Northern Ireland. (Census Bureau 2004b) The largest ethnic group in the United States, the Germans, represents 52.1 percent of the population of Germany; English-Americans make up 50.5 percent of the English population in the United Kingdom; Italian-Americans make up 27.1 percent of the population in Italy; and Israeli-Americans make up only 1.8 percent of the population of Israel. Research on other Caribbean diasporas in Europe indicates their percentage of their home countries is also lower than the Puerto Rican case, with the most comparable being the Surinamese in the Netherlands, who were 54 percent of the population of Suriname. (Grosfoguel 2003: 219)
This represents a new and not well understood phenomenon, but one that could serve to redefine the relationship between the Puerto Rican population Stateside and on the Island. The implications of this new demographic development in the Puerto Rican population aqui y alla (here and there) were not lost on the government of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Government has designed programs to reach out to the Puerto Rican communities in the United States in cultural affairs, civic participation and other areas, recognizing that this is a population whose future is closely linked with the future of Puerto Rico, and vice-versa.
The term “Stateside Puerto Ricans” is used here to describe the Puerto Rican population residing in the United States (outside of Puerto Rico). It is less ambiguous than other terms more usually used such as “mainland Puerto Ricans,” “Puerto Ricans in the United States,” “U.S.-based Puerto Ricans,” the “Puerto Rican diaspora,” and so on, which, given Puerto Rico’s political relationship with the United States and the presence of Puerto Ricans in foreign countries, can be imprecise in many respects.
This article builds on and complements the self-described first atlas of Puerto Rico, Atlas Puerto Rico, co-authored by Angel David Cruz Baez and Thomas D. Boswell and published by the Miami-based Cuban American National Council in 1997. That atlas primarily focused on Puerto Rico, but included a chapter titled “Puerto Ricans Living in the United States” that provided national and selected state maps and statistics on Stateside Puerto Ricans. (Cruz Baez and Boswell 1997: 113-130) The current publication brings those statistics up-to-date and expands the geographic coverage to more states and down to the metropolitan area level (see Falcón 2004).
The Census data used here is from the Current Population Surveys of 1990 through 2003 that were extracted and organized by sociologist Joseph A. Pereira, Ph.D., Director of the CUNY Data Service at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.
There are a few conventions used here that need to be understood at the outset. The use of the terms “White”, “Black”, and “Asian” refers to persons of these racial-ethnic groups who are not Latino. As already mentioned, the term “Stateside Puerto Rican” is used to describe those Puerto Ricans living in the United States, outside of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Island and the other U.S. territories. The statistics presented in this essay are largely from a federal government survey, the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is based on a sample generating statistics that are subject to sampling error and some variability depending on the variable and geographic levels being used. (Census Bureau 2003) Finally, the analysis of these statistics is meant only to be suggestive of the conditions facing these communities and is far from definitive, at times posing provocative questions that require further research and analysis.
 Puerto Rican Identity
This analysis is based on the premise that Stateside Puerto Ricans are a distinctive racial-ethnic group in the United States with a concrete connection to the people of Puerto Rico. (DeSipio and Pantoja 2004; Duany 2002; Hernández 1997; Pérez y González 2000; Sánchez González 2001; Torres and Velázquz 1995) Puerto Ricans have been coming to the States since the 1800s and have a long history of collective social action in advocating for their political and social rights and preserving their cultural heritage. In New York City, which has the largest concentration of Puerto Ricans in the United States, Boricuas (see Boricua) began running for elective office in the 1920s, electing one of their own to the New York State Assembly for the first time in 1937. (Falcón in Jennings and Rivera 1984: 15-42) In 1900, 114 Puerto Rican men, women and children were recruited to work in Hawaii in what was the beginning of a labor migration of over 5,000 to these Pacific islands. Besides New York City, histories and case studies have been written about Puerto Ricans in Chicago (Ramos-Zayas 2003), Philadelphia (Whalen 2001), and many other locations where they have settled and made important contributions throughout the United States.
Important Puerto Rican institutions have emerged from this long history. (Nieto 2000) Aspira, a leader in the field of education, was established in New York City in 1961 and is now one of the largest national Latino nonprofit organizations in the United States. (Pantoja 2002: 93-108) There is also the National Puerto Rican Coalition in Washington, DC, the National Puerto Rican Forum, the Puerto Rican Family Institute, Boricua College, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies of the City University of New York at Hunter College, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Conference of Puerto Rican Women, among others. One indicator of the strength of Puerto Rican identity and pride in the United States is the massive annual National Puerto Rican Parade in New York City, not to mention the more than 50 other local Puerto Rican parades throughout the country.
The Government of Puerto Rico has a long history of involvement with the Stateside Puerto Rican community. (Duany 2002: Ch. 7) In July 1930, Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor established an employment service in New York City (Chenault 1938: 72). The Migration Division (known as the “Commonwealth Office”), also of Puerto Rico’s Department of Labor, was created in 1948 and by the end of the 1950s was operating in 115 cities and towns Stateside. (Lapp 1990) The Department of Puerto Rican Affairs in the United States was established in 1989 as a cabinet-level department in Puerto Rico. And, currently, the Commonwealth operates the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration (PRFAA), which is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and has 12 regional offices throughout the United States.
Along with this long history of collective organizing and institution-building, another indicator of the strong Puerto Rican identity of Stateside Puerto Ricans is their use of the Spanish language. According to the 2000 Census, of those Stateside Puerto Ricans, ages 5 and up, 81.5 percent indicated they spoke Spanish at home. Among Latinos in that same year, Stateside Puerto Ricans had the highest percentage among U.S. Latinos of “linguistically isolated” households, which the Census Bureau defines as a household in everyone 14 years and older speaks English poorly or not very well. In 2000, 38.9 percent of Stateside Puerto Rican households were classified in this way, compared to 26.3 percent of Mexicans, 30.0 percent of Cubans, 34.4 percent of Dominicans and 30.5 percent of Colombians – in contrast, only 8.4 percent of the total U.S. population (excluding Puerto Rico) was in these so-called linguistically isolated households.
In a 5-city telephone survey conducted in 2002 by Bendixen & Associates (2002) for the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, they found a number of important indicators of what they term a strong “dual identity” among Stateside Puerto Ricans. These included the following:
- 68% say that most of their children’s friends are Hispanic or Puerto Rican;
- 63% attend Puerto Rican celebrations like the Puerto Rican Day parade;
- 54% are very connected to their family back in Puerto Rico.
The strength of Stateside Puerto Rican identity is fueled by a number of factors. These include the large circular migration between the Island and Stateside, a long tradition of the Government of Puerto Rico promoting the Island’s culture among its population and those Stateside, the continuing existence of racial-ethnic prejudice and discrimination in the United States that reinforces racial-ethnic identities, and the realities of high residential and school segregation in the U.S..
 Demographics of the Stateside Puerto Rican
The states with the largest Puerto Rican populations in 2000 were New York, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. The states with the largest Puerto Rican percentage of their total populations were:
- Connecticut (5.7 percent)
- New York (5.5 percent)
- New Jersey (4.4 percent)
- Massachusetts (3.1 percent) and
- Florida (3.0 percent.).
Those with the highest percentage of Puerto Ricans in their Latino populations were:
- Connecticut (60.7 percent)
- Pennsylvania (58.0 percent)
- Massachusetts (46.5 percent)
- New York (35.4 percent) and
- New Jersey (32.8 percent).
The cities with the largest Puerto Rican populations in 2000 were New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Newark and Hartford. In 1990-2000, among the cities with the largest Puerto Rican populations, the fastest-growing were:
- Orlando, FL (142 percent)
- Allentown, PA (83 percent)
- Tampa, FL (78 percent)
- Reading, PA (64 percent) and
- New Britain, CT (52 percent).
However, despite these dramatic growth rates, it was the decline during the 1990s in New York City that became a focus of discussion by many Puerto Ricans following Census 2000, along with the contrasting dramatic growth of the Puerto Rican population in Florida. During this period, the city’s Puerto Rican population declined by over 100,000, or 12 percent. Because of this drop in the Puerto Rican population in New York City, the state’s largest city, New York State was the only state to register a drop in its Puerto Rican population during this time period (a phenomena limited to the three biggest counties in New York City).
The New York City case is a good example of how complex Puerto Rican demographics have become. (Rivera-Batz and Santiago 1996; Christienson 2003) While overall there was a significant drop in the size of this city’s Puerto Rican population in the 1990s, there was also significant growth in the Puerto Rican populations in two of its five boroughs (or counties). In addition, despite this population decline, New York City remains a major hub for migration from Puerto Rico and for Puerto Rican migration within the United States. Numbering close to 800,000, New York City’s Puerto Rican community remains its largest Latino population group.
Although the attention on Puerto Rican population decline became focused on New York City, there were four other major cities that also experienced this phenomenon in 1990-2000. These include Chicago, Illinois and three cities in New Jersey:
- Chicago, IL, with a decline of 6,811 Puerto Ricans (a 6 percent drop)
- Jersey City, NJ (-13,567, a 4 percent drop)
- Newark, NJ (-11,895, a 5 percent drop), and
- Paterson, NJ (-3,567, a 13 percent drop).
The reasons and impact of these declines in these communities are not well understood. Especially in the New York case, this has been the subject of much speculation but little serious analysis to date. (Falcón in Falcón, Haslip-Viera and Matos-Rodríguez 2004: Ch. 6)
To put this population decline question in an even broader context, it is important to note that beyond these major cities the Stateside Puerto Rican population dropped in 1990-2000 in 164 other smaller cities throughout the United States — these represents altogether 10.8 percent of all 1,503 cities and other places reported on in the 2000 Census (CDPs or Census Designated Places). Of the 10 places in the country with the highest percentage drop in their Puerto Rican population, half (5) were in California, 2 were in Florida and New Jersey, and 1 was in Massachusetts. The 5 places with the biggest 1990-2000 drops in Puerto Rican population were: Olympia Heights, FL (-72.4 percent), Marina, CA (-59.0 percent), Seaside, CA (-55.1 percent), Baldwin Park, CA (-48.4 percent), and Pompano Beach Highlands, CA (-43.8 percent) — none of these top ten, interestingly enough, were in the Northeast or Midwest.
The theme of “dispersal” has had a long history with the Stateside Puerto Rican community. (Rivera-Batz and Santiago 1996: 131-135; Maldonado 1997 :Ch. 13; Briggs 2002: Ch. 6) This history extends from the early concerns with overpopulation of Puerto Rico to those in the 1940s and ‘50s about the need to disperse the rapidly growing Puerto Rican population (or “problem”, as it was referred to back then) that was dramatically concentrating itself in New York City, Chicago and other U.S. urban centers after World War II. One popular explanation, interestingly enough, for the lack of Puerto Rican political power compared to Blacks has been that Puerto Ricans were less concentrated residentially. More recent demographic developments appear at first blush as if the Stateside Puerto Rican population has been dispersing itself in greater numbers. However, upon closer examination, it is a process probably best described as a “reconfiguration” or even the “nationalizing” of this community throughout the United States. (Duany 2002: Ch. 9)
New York City was the center of the Stateside Puerto Rican community for most of the 20th century. With the 2000 Census, this picture changed in dramatic ways. New York City was once home to over 80 percent of Stateside Puerto Ricans and a place where Puerto Ricans were the majority of its Latino population. By 2000, Puerto Ricans in New York City represented only 23 percent of all Stateside Puerto Ricans, and made up 37 percent of the city’s Latino population. Nevertheless, New York City Puerto Ricans remain the largest Latino group in the city. Numbering close to 800,000 in 2000, their population is almost double that of Puerto Rico’s capital city, San Juan (estimated at 433,412 in 2002 by the Census Bureau).
The dramatic growth of the Puerto Rican population in Florida has generated considerable attention, especially given its important political implications for U.S. presidential elections. The number of Puerto Ricans in Florida between 1990 and 2000 almost doubled from 247,016 to 482,027 (a 95.1 percent increase). According to the Current Population Survey, in 2003 the Puerto Rican population in Florida was estimated to be 760,127, representing a growth of 57.7 percent since 2000.
However, as already stated, it is not at all clear whether these settlement changes can be characterized as simple Puerto Rican population dispersal. It is a fact that Puerto Rican population settlements today are less concentrated than they were in places like New York City, Chicago and a number of cities in New Jersey. However, more than two-thirds (67.0 percent) of Stateside Puerto Ricans in 2003 still resided in the two most traditional areas of Puerto Rican settlement, the Northeast and Midwest. New York City, for example, remains one of the most important migration hubs for Puerto Ricans for both those coming to the United States from Puerto Rico and those migrating within the United States.
The most dramatic Puerto Rican population growth in the 1990s, as it was for Latinos as a whole, was undeniably in smaller cities and towns, such as Allentown, Pennsylvania. (Nathan 2004) But while this type of growth outside of central cities is associated with suburbanization and upward mobility, in the Puerto Rican case this relationship has been recast in fundamental ways. While there was an element of upward mobility, there was also the spatial spread of the poor and low wage workers. At the point at which Stateside Puerto Ricans began moving to the suburbs, these areas had begun in general to take on many of the negative characteristics of the urban centers – housing and school segregation, poverty, rising crime and so on.
Rather than simple dispersal what we may be witnessing is a reconcentration and an increasingly complex migration circuit for Stateside Puerto Ricans. Undoubtedly occurring largely as part of current powerful forces of globalization and its attendant economic restructurings, this redistribution of such a large portion of the Stateside and Island Puerto Rican populations is creating a significant social reconfiguration as well. The result will have important cultural, social, political and economic implications for the development of the Puerto Rican people as a whole. At this juncture, we can only begin to speculate about its long-term impact.
Despite these significant population movements, even in 2000 the rank in terms of Puerto Rican population of cities outside of the traditional settlement regions of the Northeast and Midwest, like Tampa and Orlando, both in Florida, were only 20th and 23rd, respectively. Puerto Ricans continued to be one of the most urbanized groups in the United States, with 55.8 percent living in central cities in 2003. This is more than double the concentration in these urban centers of 25 percent by non-Latinos and higher than that of Mexicans (43.1 percent), Cubans (22.3 percent), or Central/South Americans (47.9 percent).
Residential segregation is another way in which the Stateside Puerto Rican population is concentrated. While this is largely discussed in Black-White racial terms and Blacks are the most residentially segregated group in the United States, among U.S. Latinos Stateside Puerto Ricans are the most residentially segregated. (Baker 2002: Ch. 7 and Appendix 2)
Using a measure of degree of segregation called the Index of Dissimilarity, for which a score of 60 or above indicates a high level of segregation; Puerto Ricans exceed this level in nine major metropolitan areas. They were most segregated in the following six metro areas in the year 2000: Bridgeport, CT (score of 73), Hartford, CT (70), New York City (69), Philadelphia, PA-NJ (69), Newark, NJ (69) and Cleveland-Lorain-Elyria, OH (68).
Residential segregation is a serious problem related primarily to housing discrimination, especially for groups like Puerto Ricans who have been migrating Stateside for close to a century. Residential concentrations are associated with high poverty conditions and a host of other social problems, including low-performing schools, poor health and low-paying jobs.
Stateside Puerto Ricans also find themselves concentrated in a third interesting way — they are disproportionately clustered in what has been called the “Boston-New York-Washington Corridor” along the East Coast. This area, coined “megalopolis” by geographer Jean Gottman (1956) in the 1950s, is the largest and most affluent urban corridor in the world, which has been described as a “node of wealth ... [an] area where the pulse of the national economy beats loudest and the seats of power are well established.” (Shaw 1997: 551). With major world class universities clustered in Boston and stretching throughout this corridor, the economic and media power and international power politics in New York City, and the seat of the federal government in Washington, DC, this is a major global power center.
The actual and potential impact that Stateside Puerto Ricans are and can be having on the United States and globally because of their significant presence in this Boston-New York-Washington megalopolis has been and can be considerable. It is a locational advantage that can best be leveraged if this community is able to develop a comparable regional leadership and infrastructure to do it. It certainly helps to account for the disproportionate projection of Stateside Puerto Rican images globally through the media and institutions of higher education we have witnessed since the “great migration” of the 1950s.
These changes in the settlement patterns of Stateside Puerto Ricans between so-called traditional and new areas, has resulted in a greater economic and social segmentation or polarization of this population along spatial lines. The Northeast, which in 2003 was home to 59.2 percent of Stateside Puerto Ricans, was also where 88.5 percent of Stateside Puerto Ricans receiving public assistance lived. The average household income of this population in 2002 of $42,032 was the lowest of any other major racial-ethnic group in the Northeast; this was the only region where it was lower than the national average household income for Stateside Puerto Ricans. The Northeast was also the region where Stateside Puerto Ricans had the lowest homeownership rate, 31.9 percent.
Because of its greater visibility and the dramatic growth of its Puerto Rican population, Florida is usually identified as the main engine behind this polarization. However, there are more dramatic differences in socioeconomic indicators between the Northeast and states like California, Texas and Hawaii. This is the case as well for states like New Jersey and Illinois, which are in the more traditional Puerto Rican settlement regions. The regional socioeconomic polarization of the Stateside Puerto Rican population is more complex than it may appear at first glance. While the greater affluence of the Puerto Rican population in states like California and Texas may be well-established, the future of a state like Florida in this regard at not at all clear given the rapidity and size of its migration and the different economic forces and labor markets at play.
While the 1990-2000 population growth rate of Stateside Puerto Ricans of 24.9 percent was impressive compared to the overall 13.1 percent growth for total U.S. population, it was less than half of the growth rate for the total Latino population of 57.9 percent. In cities like New York this meant that the Puerto Rican share of the Latino population decreased, while in Florida it increased. Overall, Stateside Puerto Ricans make up about from 9 to 10 percent of the total U.S. Latino population.
These shifts in the relative sizes of Latino populations have also changed the role of the Stateside Puerto Rican community within these more Latinized settings. (De Genova and Ramos-Zayas 2003) In many cases, Puerto Rican community leaders have become major advocates for immigration reform despite the fact that Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. In some cases, because this community has had a longer history in dealing with the U.S. political system, the increasing numbers of Puerto Rican elected and appointed government officials play gate-keeping and other roles in terms of the growing non-Puerto Rican Latino communities. Thus, many long established Puerto Rican institutions have had to revise their missions (and, in some cases, change their names) to provide services and advocacy on behalf of non-Puerto Rican Latinos. Some have seen this as a process that has made the Stateside Puerto Rican community nearly invisible as immigration and a broader Latino agenda seem to have taken center stage, while others view this is a great opportunity for Stateside Puerto Ricans to increase their influence and leadership role in a larger Latino world.
 Socioeconomic Conditions
The Stateside Puerto Rican community has usually been characterized as being largely poor and part of the urban underclass in the United States. Studies and reports over the last fifty years or so have documented the high poverty status of this community. (Baker 2002) However, the picture of Stateside Puerto Ricans at the start of the 21st century also reveals significant socioeconomic progress and a community with a growing economic clout. (Rivera-Batiz and Santiago 1996)
In 2002, the average individual income for Stateside Puerto Ricans was $33,927. This represented only 68.7 percent of the income of Whites ($48,687) and was below the average incomes of Asians ($49,981), Cubans ($38,733) and “Other Hispanics” ($38,200). However, it was higher than that of Mexicans ($27,877), Dominicans ($28,467), and Central and South Americans ($30,444). In 2002, there were an estimated 24,450 Stateside Puerto Ricans with individual incomes of $100,000 or more, compared to 4,059 a decade earlier.
The Latino Market and Remittances to Puerto Rico. Combined, the aggregate income for Stateside Puerto Ricans in 2002 was $54.5 billion. This aggregate personal income of Stateside Puerto Ricans exceeds the total personal income for Puerto Rico, which was $42.6 billion in 2000. This is a significant share of the large and growing Latino market in the United States that has been receiving so much attention from the media and the corporate sector. In the last decade or so, major corporations have discovered the so-called “urban markets” of Blacks and Latinos that had been neglected for so long. This has spawned a cottage industry of marketing firms, consultants and publications that specialize in the Latino market.
One important question this raises is the degree to which Stateside Puerto Ricans contribute economically to Puerto Rico. The only recent study that could be identified that examines the issue of remittances by Stateside Puerto Ricans to Puerto Rico limited itself to migrant Puerto Ricans (those living Stateside that were born on the Island) and found that 38 percent of them indicated they sent money to Puerto Rico, averaging $1,179 a year per person (these are unpublished figures not included in the report that was released by DeSipio, et al. 2003). Using 2002 figures for Island-born adult Stateside Puerto Ricans, this would represent $417.8 million in remittances to Puerto Rico annually from the Island-born members of the Stateside Puerto Rican community alone. A much earlier reference to Stateside Puerto Rican remittances had the Puerto Rico Planning Board estimating that they totaled $66 million in 1963. (Senior and Watkins in Cordasco and Bucchioni 1975: 162-163)
Since the Island-born represented only 34 percent of the Stateside Puerto Rican population in 2003, actual remittances from the total Stateside Puerto Rican community are probably more than double this number, possibly approaching or exceeding $1 billion a year. It is also important to keep in mind that these are family remittances and do not include investments in businesses and property in Puerto Rico, visitor expenditures and the like by Stateside Puerto Ricans.
The full extent of the Stateside Puerto Rican community’s contributions to the economy of Puerto Rico is not known, but it is clearly significant and merits serious examination. The role of remittances and investments by Latino immigrants to their home counties has reached a level that it has received much attention in the last few years, as countries like Mexico develop strategies to better leverage these large sums of money from their diasporas in their economic development planning. (DeSipio, et al. 2003) This is a clear signal to the Government of Puerto Rico and the Island’s businesses that they need to pay greater attention to the Stateside Puerto Rican population’s role in the overall economic development of the Island.
Gender. The average income in 2002 of Stateside Puerto Rican women was $30,613 and for the men it was $36,572. In other words, the women had incomes that were 83.7 percent of the men’s. Compared to all Latino groups, Whites and Asians, Stateside Puerto Rican women had come closer to achieving parity in income with the men of their own racial-ethnic group.
In addition, Stateside Puerto Rican women had incomes that were 82.3 percent that of White women, while Stateside Puerto Rican men has incomes that were only 64.0 percent that of White men. Stateside Puerto Rican women were closer to income parity with White women than were women who were Mexican (63.8 percent), Dominican (58.7 percent), Central and South Americans (68.4 percent); but they were below those of women who were Cuban (86.2 percent), “Other Hispanic” (87.2 percent), Black (83.7 percent), and Asian (107.7 percent).
Stateside Puerto Rican men were, however, in a weaker position in comparison with men from other racial-ethnic groups. They were closer to income parity with White men than were men from the following groups: Dominicans (62.3 percent), and Central and South Americans (58.3 percent). Although very close to income parity with Blacks (who had incomes 65.5 percent that of White men), Stateside Puerto Rican men fell below that of men from the following groups: Mexicans (68.3 percent), Cubans (75.9 percent), “Other Hispanics” (75.1 percent), and Asians (100.7 percent).
 Educational Attainment
High School Graduation Rates. Stateside Puerto Ricans, along with other U.S. Latinos, have experienced the long-term problem of an unacceptably high school dropout rate that has resulted in relatively low educational attainment levels. (Nieto 2000) Of those 25 years and older, 63.2 percent of Stateside Puerto Ricans had graduated from high school, compared to 84.0 percent of Whites, 73.6 percent of Blacks and 83.4 percent of Asians. This Stateside Puerto Rican high school graduation rate, however, exceeded that of Mexicans (48.7 percent), Dominicans (51.7 percent) and Central and South Americans (60.4 percent), while it was below that of Cubans (68.7 percent) and Other Latinos (72.6 percent).
College Graduation Rates. While in Puerto Rico, according to the 2000 Census, 24.4 percent of those 25 years and older had a 4-year college degree, for Stateside Puerto Ricans the figure was only 9.9 percent. By 2003, for Stateside Puerto Ricans it increased to 13.1 percent, below the rate for Whites (26.1 percent), Blacks (14.4 percent) and Asians (43.3 percent). Among Latinos, only Mexicans (6.2 percent) fared worse than Stateside Puerto Ricans in college attainment, with the other groups having higher rates: Dominicans (10.9 percent), Cubans (19.4 percent), Central and South Americans (16.0 percent) and other Latinos (16.1 percent).
Graduate Degrees. Stateside Puerto Ricans in 2003 also had low attainment of graduate school degrees, with only 3.1 percent of those 25 and older having one (compared to 4.7 percent in Puerto Rico in 2000). This rate was lower than that for Whites (8.7 percent), Blacks (4.1 percent) and Asians (15.6 percent). Among Latinos, Stateside Puerto Ricans fared better in the attainment of graduate school degrees than Mexicans (1.4 percent) and Dominicans (1.8 percent), but worse than Cubans (6.7 percent), Central and South Americans (4.2 percent) and other Latinos (5.6 percent).
In 2003, 20.7 percent of Stateside Puerto Ricans were in professional-managerial occupations, while 33.7 percent were in service-sales jobs. The percentage in professional-managerial positions was higher than that of Mexicans (13.2 percent) and Central and South Americans (16.8 percent), but below that of Cubans (28.5 percent), Other Latinos (29.0 percent), and non-Latinos (36.2 percent).
Between 1993 and 2003, among Stateside Puerto Ricans, those in professional-managerial occupations grew from 15.3 to 20.7 percent, a 5.4 percentage point increase. While significant, this increase lagged behind that of non-Latinos (+8.8 points) and Cubans (+9.9 points).
Stateside Puerto Ricans have been associated with problems faced by communities with persistently high poverty levels. Some have characterized them as part of the urban underclass in the United States. (Rodríguez 1989) However, while except for Dominicans, Stateside Puerto Ricans have among the highest poverty rates of any group in the United States (22.8 percent for families), over three quarters live above the poverty line. This rate is also about half the poverty rate of Puerto Rico in 2000 of 44.6 percent. (PRLDEF Latino Data Center 2004)
Compared to other racial-ethnic groups in the United States, the Stateside Puerto Rican poverty rate is only exceeded by that of Dominicans (29.9 percent). The Stateside Puerto Rican poverty rate is higher than every other major group: Whites (6.3 percent), Blacks (21.3 percent), Asians (7.1 percent), Mexicans (21.2 percent), Cubans (12.9 percent), Central and South Americans (14.1 percent) and other Latinos (13.2 percent). What is troubling about these statistics is that among the Latino groups, Puerto Ricans are the only ones to arrive in the United States already as U.S. citizens, which should be an advantage but apparently is not in terms of socioeconomic status. (Baker 2002: 132, 133, 154, 167, 169, 171 and 172; Rivera Ramos 2001: 3-5, 162-63)
Female Headed Families. The Stateside Puerto Rican poverty rate for families headed by single women is especially alarming, standing at 39.3 percent. Again, in comparison with Puerto Rico, it is significantly lower than the 61.3 percent poverty rate for single female headed families on the Island. As with general family poverty, the Stateside Puerto Rican poverty level for single female headed households is higher than every other major group except Dominicans (49.0 percent). The rate for the other groups was 20.3 percent for Whites, 35.3 percent for Blacks, 14.7 percent far Asians, 37.6 percent for Mexicans, 15.3 percent for Cubans, 27.1 percent for Central and South Americans, and 24.8 percent for Other Latinos.
 Civic Participation
The Puerto Rican community has organized itself to represent its interests in Stateside political institutions for close to a century. (Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños 2003; Jennings and Rivera 1984) In New York City, Puerto Ricans first began running for public office in the 1920s — in 1937 they elected their first representative to government, Oscar Garcia Rivera, to the New York State Assembly. (Falcón in Jennings and Rivera 1984: Ch. 2) Today, there are three Puerto Ricans elected to the United States House of Representatives (two from New York City and one from Chicago), complementing the one Resident Commissioner elected to that body from Puerto Rico. There have been Puerto Rican mayors of major cities elected (Miami, Hartford, Camden and others). If there is one area in which the Stateside Puerto Rican community has been successful it is that of leadership in the electoral arena.
There are various ways in which Stateside Puerto Ricans have exercised their influence. These include protest activity, making campaign contributions and lobbying, and voting. The level of voter participation in Puerto Rico is legendary, greatly exceeding that of the United States. However, there is what many see as a paradox in that this high level of voting does not follow Puerto Ricans Stateside. (Falcón in Heine 1983: Ch. 2; Camara-Fuertes 2004) Stateside Puerto Ricans have had persistently low voter registration and turnout rates, despite the relative success they have had in electing their own to significant public offices throughout the United States.
To address this problem, the government of Puerto Rico has, since the late 1980s, launched two major voter registration campaigns to increase the level of Stateside Puerto Rican voter participation. While Stateside Puerto Ricans have traditionally been concentrated in the Northeast, coordinated Latino voter registration organizations, such as the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) and the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute (based in the Midwest), have not concentrated in this region and have been focused on the Mexican-American voter. The government of Puerto Rico has sought to fill this vacuum to assure that Stateside Puerto Rican interests are well represented in the United States’ electoral process. This involvement recognizes that the increased political influence of Stateside Puerto Ricans also benefits the Island.
Another interesting fact about the Stateside Puerto Rican vote is that, while for other Latino groups citizenship status is a major obstacle to voting, this is not a significant issue for Stateside Puerto Ricans (99.7 percent of whom are U.S. citizens). One result of this is that although Stateside Puerto Ricans make up 10.2 percent of all Latinos of voting age who are citizens, they make up a significantly higher 14.5 percent of Latinos who actually voted largely because more Puerto Ricans are eligible to vote because of their citizenship status.
In 2000, only 38.6 percent of voting age Stateside Puerto Ricans who were citizens were registered to vote. Whites, on the other hand, had a voter registration rate of 54.7 percent, indicating the significant participation gap that exists in the United States. However, these rates vary widely by racial-ethnic group, with the only one exceeding the White rate being the Cubans (55.9 percent), and the one exceeding that of Stateside Puerto Ricans being Blacks (44.6 percent). Among Latinos, the Stateside Puerto Rican voter registration rate was higher than that of Mexicans (24.0 percent), Central and South Americans (24.7 percent), and Other Latinos (34.8 percent).
In terms of actual voter turnout as a percent of those registered, 79.8 percent of Stateside Puerto Ricans voted in 2000. This turnout rate was lower than that of Whites (86.4 percent) and Blacks (84.1 percent). Among Latinos, Stateside Puerto Rican turnout was lower than that of Cubans (87.2 percent), Central and South Americans (87.3 percent), and Other Latinos (83.8 percent), but was higher than that of Mexicans (75.0 percent).
To get a better picture of the small proportion of voters among all those eligible to vote (whether registered or not), the turnout rate can be calculated as the number of voters as a percentage of the citizen voting age population (C-VAP) for each group. Using this measure, the C-VAP turnout rate for Stateside Puerto Ricans was 30.8 percent in 2000. This means more than two-thirds of Stateside Puerto Ricans who are eligible to vote either did not register or were registered but didn’t vote. In terms of actual numbers, this translates into 1.9 million Stateside Puerto Ricans who were eligible to vote but did not do so in the 2000 election.
This low level of electoral participation of Stateside Puerto Ricans is in sharp contrast with voting levels in Puerto Rico, which are much higher than that of this community but also than for the United States as a whole. (Camara-Fuertes 2004) In the 2000 gubernatorial election in Puerto Rico, 90.1 percent of the voting age population was registered to vote, and the voter turnout rate was 82.6 percent of those registered and 74.4 percent of the total voting age population. In contrast, in the U.S. presidential elections that same year, only 49.5 percent of eligible Americans were registered to vote and only 42.3 percent of these actually cast their ballots (and these are high estimates based on respondents’ recall, while the figures from Puerto Rico are based on actual returns).
The reasons for the differences in Puerto Rican voter participation in both settings have been an object of much discussion but relatively little scholarly research. (Falcón in Heine 1983: Ch. 2) Explanations for this difference have ranged from the structural/institutional, the role of political parties, and political culture, and a combination of these, as well as other explanations. There appears to be much to be learned about voter mobilization by the United States from the Puerto Rico case, especially since its electoral system is formally part of the U.S. However, relatively little has been done by U.S. scholars and policymakers to explore lessons from this case in their own backyard, preferring to look to examples from foreign countries.
The problem of low Stateside Puerto Rican political participation continues to be a challenge to this community and Puerto Rico’s leadership. Probably the major obstacle to Stateside Puerto Rican voting is an electoral system in the United States that discourages the participation of low income people, communities of color and non-English language speakers. This certainly goes a long way to explain why Stateside Puerto Rican participation is so depressed. However, it is important to recognize that some progress has been made over the years to overcome these obstacles, especially community-based efforts using the legal protections afforded by the Federal Voting Rights Act.
When we examine the relationship of various factors to the turnout rates of Stateside Puerto Ricans in 2000, we find a clear pattern in the impact of socioeconomic status on this participation (Vargas-Ramos examines this relationship for Puerto Ricans in New York City in Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños 2003: 41-71). For example, according to the Census:
- Income: the turnout rate for those with incomes less than $10,000 was 37.7 percent, while for those with incomes $75,000 and above it was 76.7 percent.
- Employment: for those unemployed it was 36.5 percent, while for those employed it was 51.2 percent. The rate for those outside of the labor force was 50.6 percent, probably reflecting the disproportionate role of the elderly in this category who generally have higher turnout rates.
- Union Membership: for union members it was 51.3 percent, while for nonunion members it was 42.6 percent.
- Housing Tenure: for homeowners it was 64.0 percent, while for renters it was 41.8 percent.
There are a number of other sociodemographic characteristics where turnout differences also exist, such as:
- Age: the average age of voters was 45.3 years, compared to 38.5 years for eligible nonvoters.
- Educational Attainment: those with less than a high school diploma had a turnout rate of 42.5 percent, while for those with a graduate degree it was 81.0 percent.
- Nativity: for those born Stateside it was 48.9 percent, compared to 52.0 percent for those born in Puerto Rico.
- Family Type: for those who were married it was 62.0 percent, while for those who were never married it was 33.0 percent.
- Military Service: for those who ever served in the U.S. military, the turnout rate was 72.1 percent, compared to 48.6 percent for those who never served.
There were a number of other characteristics that did not appear to make a significant difference in turnout rates for Stateside Puerto Ricans. These included gender and race.
There has also been attention given to electoral reforms in the last decade or so to create conditions that would make voting and registration easier. These include such things as: the federal “Motor Voter” law that allows registration in government offices while applying for a driver’s license, Food Stamps or another government service; more flexible absentee ballot procedures; bilingual ballot provisions; same day registration; and so on.
Stateside Puerto Ricans registered to vote in 2000 in a variety of ways and places. The largest group registered through the mail (30.8 percent), followed by those filling out a form at a voter registration drive (22.1 percent). The other ways they registered were: same day registration at the polling place (14.4 percent); government registration offices (13.7 percent); public assistance agencies (8.4 percent); and schools, hospitals and on campuses (3.0 percent).
Looking at the turnout rates for Stateside Puerto Ricans depending on how they registered, they are lowest for registration that occurs in government offices and highest when done in other settings. The highest turnout rates were for those who registered at registration drives (95.2 percent), through the mail (93.8 percent) and those who did same day registration at the polls (90.5 percent). It was lowest for those who registered at a government registration office (70.9 percent) and a public assistance agency (52.7 percent).
These figures indicate that a reform like “Motor Voter” is having the least effect for Stateside Puerto Ricans, while the techniques being pursued by the government of Puerto Rico (registration drives and direct mail) appear more promising. However, much more analysis, especially of a fieldwork nature, will be required to come to more definite conclusions about this.
This overview of Stateside Puerto Rican electoral participation is descriptive and only suggestive of its nature and extent. A more adequate discussion of the topic would require more comparisons with other racial-ethnic groups, a multivariate analysis of the statistics presented, and more of a focus on the local and state levels. The contrast with Puerto Rico, the differential impact of socio-demographic variables, and the mobilizing role of the government of Puerto Rico, among other factors, makes this a fascinating subject for further study that has great potential for practical results that can help to further empower the Stateside Puerto Rican community and strengthen democracy in the whole of the United States.
This overview of the demographic, socioeconomic conditions and civic participation of Stateside Puerto Ricans at the start of the 21st century has many implications. While much more analyses of both quantitative and qualitative varieties are required, some fairly obvious observations can be made.
The growth of the Stateside Puerto Rican community to the point of exceeding the Puerto Rican population in Puerto Rico is a historic development. This is a unique situation among countries, especially in the Western Hemisphere, to have more than half of a population living outside the homeland. The only case that we could find that is of an even larger scale is that of the Irish.
While the Stateside Puerto Rican population has been widely viewed as “dispersing” away from its traditional settlement centers of the Northeast and the Midwest, the reality is more complex. There has been a shifting in their share from the Northeast to the South, but rather than dispersal this seems to reflect changing patterns of migration that involve processes of reconcentration and reconfiguration from largely major inner city to more suburbanized and smaller city settlement patterns with more diverse migration outflows from Puerto Rico, patterns that are not yet well understood.
Despite decades of migration, the Stateside Puerto Rican community still identifies strongly as Puerto Rican and has built a wide array of institutions and social practices, including a significant circular migration, that reinforce their identity. It is an identity also strengthened by the fact that Stateside Puerto Ricans are among the most residentially segregated communities in the United States and are subjected to the continuing racial-ethnic discrimination in the United States.
While the Stateside Puerto Rican community has been portrayed as a largely impoverished population, it currently is much more socioeconomically diverse. It has, for example, a small but numerically, if not proportionately, growing middle class.
The role of the Stateside Puerto Rican community in the economic development of Puerto Rico has been underestimated and requires further study and support. The aggregate income of Stateside Puerto Ricans exceeds that of Puerto Rico, and Stateside Puerto Ricans probably send to Puerto Rico close to $1 billion (if not more) a year in family remittances, in addition to investments in businesses, housing, land and other areas.
While in the United States there has been a major discovery of a large Latino market by American business, corporations in Puerto Rico need to view the Stateside Puerto Rican market in the same terms. Particularly given the strong cultural nationalism of Stateside Puerto Ricans, they represent a large potential market for specifically Puerto Rican products and services that has not been cultivated in any significant way. As the government of Puerto Rico has done in promoting Puerto Rican business Stateside in general, it has an opportunity to promote Island business relations with the Stateside Puerto Rican market.
The role of the government of Puerto Rico has been an important factor in the social, cultural and political development of the Stateside Puerto Rican community. With all the attention that is currently being given to the role of Latino American governments in the development of their U.S.-based diasporas, such as legislating dual citizenship and promoting the sending of remittances, it is important to note that the government of Puerto Rico’s role in working with its Stateside population has been unique and path-breaking in ways that offers important lessons for Latino and other immigrants and their home countries.
While the government of Puerto Rico has worked in important ways with the Stateside Puerto Rican community in the areas of civic participation, cultural reinforcement and in the provision of employment and other social services over the years, one critical area it has not developed sufficiently is that of higher education. Given the relatively poor educational attainment of Stateside Puerto Ricans, especially at the level of higher education, and the achievement of much higher levels in Puerto Rico in this area, Puerto Rico has much to offer in extending higher educational opportunities to Stateside Puerto Ricans. The University of Puerto Rico is the major Hispanic serving institution of higher education in the United States that has the capacity, with increased federal government assistance, to open its doors much more aggressively to Stateside Puerto Ricans. This could have a significant impact of the higher education attainment of Stateside Puerto Ricans that in turn would enhance this community’s economic and general social development.
As the nature of Puerto Rican migration becomes more complex and fluid, the Island/Stateside boundary has become increasingly blurred. One result is that Puerto Ricans of both sides of this porous “border” cross over it with greater frequency than before and participate more effortlessly than ever in each other’s labor forces and social processes. For Puerto Rico, the participation of Stateside Puerto Ricans on the Island potentially means strengthening the skills set of its labor force in terms of bilingual language proficiency and experience with Stateside institutions and practices in ways that could significantly strengthen its position as a unique bridge to Latin American business and markets for itself and the United States. By strengthening the educational and economic profile of the Stateside Puerto Rican, Puerto Rico is strengthening its own position.
In addition, the role of the Stateside Puerto Rican with Puerto Rico appears underdeveloped despite the significant investments made by Stateside Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico, their role as a major portion of visitors/tourists to the Island, their representation in the United States Congress by three Puerto Rican voting representatives and their concentration in the influential Boston-New York-Washington, DC corridor, among other things. These are potentially important resources for Puerto Rico that need to be acknowledged and strategically cultivated.
The relationship between Stateside and Island Puerto Ricans should be one de familia (of family) and should be above politically partisan concerns. The investment by the government of Puerto Rico, no matter which political party is in power, and Island-based corporations in the development of the Stateside Puerto Rican community is an investment in the future of Puerto Rico. As we enter this new century, it could represent a new beginning in the relationship between Puerto Rico and its diaspora that recognizes their interdependence and the enormous potential for mutual social, political and economic growth and prosperity. The only thing standing in the way is the will and imagination to make it so.
(Note: An abridged version of this article originally appeared as the introduction to Falcón 2004.)
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