Tuesday, November 1, 2016

A Short Story of My Heritage

By Erica Nieves

From October 28 to 30, I had the opportunity to attend Phi Theta Kappa Regional Conference in Rochester, New York. During the conference, there are keynote presentations that connect to the themes of the Honors in Action project. The first keynote speaker, Dr. Nayda Pares-Kane, choose the theme Individualism and Collectivism for her presentation “The Politics of Barrio Public Housing in Rochester, NY”. The topic she chose to present had a slight personal connection to me: it was about a Puerto Rican community in a housing project in the city of Rochester.

As a young Puerto Rican woman, I knew a few things: I knew that we have American citizenship. I knew that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. I knew that there are even heavily concentrated neighborhoods for Puerto Ricans, like Spanish Harlem, for example. But I wasn’t familiar with the history of the migration of Puerto Ricans coming to the U.S.

In 1917, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory. For a while, appointed governors were non-Puerto Rican until President Truman appointed Jesus T. Pinero. Two years after World War II ended, Operation Bootstrap occurred. Operation Bootstrap was a solution to the “Puerto Rican problem” of overpopulation and employment. Eventually, between 1948 and 1960, Puerto Ricans arrived to fill the labor demands of factories and farms in a large migration to the mainland. Due to a large migration, “barrio” came into existence to describe segregated neighborhoods with a big Puerto Rican population. In Rochester, there was a sizable, concentrated Puerto Rican population within the community.

Unfortunately, some problems had occurred after their arrival. The population increased, but affordable housing was scarce. Leaders refused to acknowledge the changing demographics, such as the Rochester barrio growing. With a large Puerto Rican population that migrated to the U.S. in a city with scarce affordable housing, the situation seemed uncertain. Eventually, deindustrialization, the middle class white flight, high unemployment, and increases in poverty made the situation worse.

Rochester was the last city to offer public housing to its’ citizens, because the city hated the idea of it. This left low-income families with very few housing options. An uprising occurred by the Puerto Rican community, modeling after the uprising of the African American group FIGHT, to get the option of public housing.

Los Flamboyanes, a public housing project, soon became a reality. It became a tenant community for the Puerto Ricans that lived in it. According to Dr. Pares-Kanes, the oral histories revealed the issues of racism, housing needs, tenant organization, pride in home and community, as well as regarding Los Flamboyanes as a symbol of victory. Today, it is known as the “poor man’s housing”.

Dr. Pares-Kanes says that housing policies should focus on individuals, not communities, which is very hard to compose. Every individual is different. However, each individual should be lifted out of poverty and be able to contribute to better their community. Overall, this presentation taught me not only about the Puerto Rican community in Rochester, but the history of the migration that reminds me about the importance of collectivism in a strange, new home.

No comments:

Post a Comment

What do you think?