The complex of structural processes and life experiences delineated in these four essays by Juan Hernández Cruz and a demographic synthesis by Clara Muschkin clearly demonstrate the need for this bilingual volume on Puerto Rican migration. The pervasive yet ever-changing impact of migration on social relations over a lifetime, in daily affairs, and especially on language is convincingly evoked in these accounts, drawn from research extending over nearly two decades and spanning some five hundred years of migratory movements.
The first essay, “Migratory Trends in Contemporary Puerto Rico,” effectively maps the distinctive stages in the role of migration in shaping and responding to economic, political, and cultural trends. In the earliest phases of colonization and settlement in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the island was essentially a way station for migrants headed for the burgeoning Spanish colonies. Over the next three centuries, the gradual consolidation of a plantation system based on sugar and coffee fed on continued European immigration, the importation of African slave labor, and the decimation and dispersion of regional indigenous peoples.
Under the colonial relationship with the United States, roughly between 1900 and the late 1930s, an accelerated thrust toward a capitalist agrarian order, accompanied by primary industrialization and urbanization, set the stage for a variety of migration ventures coordinated by governments and international agricultural corporate interests reaching beyond the Caribbean to the U.S. mainland and Hawaii. Meanwhile, decades of unswerving commitment to population control and economic development by exporting labor power—in the hope of drawing capital investment and promoting job creation—situated Puerto Rico, as World War II ended, in the vanguard of labor-exporting developing economies. This strategy, carried to record levels between the 1940s and the early 1970s, reinforced the conditions for the current massive return migration, the circulation of a substantial mobile labor contingent, and the transformation of traditional sending countries into regional poles of attraction for displaced surplus workers.
This broad-stroke periodization of Puerto Rican migration provides a frame of reference for the major research conducted by Hernández Cruz at the Centro de Investigaciones del Caribe y America Latina: the qualitative cataloguing of the migration experience of individuals and families through the reconstruction of their life histories. Although the approach is generally intuitive and impressionistic rather than rigorously formalistic, the accounts here present valuable material linking them to the prevailing methodological, theoretical, and policy concerns in migration studies.
The volume’s second essay, “Puerto Rican Emigration to the United States: 1940 to the Present,” for example, tracks such variables as social contexts, moments in family and individual lives, age-gender-class dimensions, and human capital endowments (education, occupation, labor-sector placement, “push-pull” factors, ethnicity, national origin) as these impinge on contemporary migration decisions. The third essay, “Reintegration of Circulating Families in Southwestern Puerto Rico,” highlights adjustment problems for returnees and their offspring, as well as the more extended experience of “circulation”; that is, successive cycles of emigration and return, often stretching over two or more generations. Matters of identity, language, race, command of cultural practices, use of institutional resources (schools, health services, political participation, even recreational facilities) emerge as major points of tension, which currently center on “Nuyoricans” but are expanding to other referents.
The effects of the “reinvasion” of island localities by “ex-Puerto Ricans” and Puerto Ricans socialized abroad are charted in the fourth essay, “The Impact of Migrant Circulation on Local Governments in Southwest Puerto Rico.” The challenge of responding to the needs of returnees appears just as daunting, tension-laden, and financially problematic as the “Contract with America” dispositions on the mainland dealing with newcomers both legal and undocumented. The growing significance of parallel flows (chiefly from Cuba and the Dominican Republic) of migrants whose ultimate destination is the United States highlights the commonalities of these processes in both “center” and “periphery.” It also signals the significance of the Puerto Rican experience in foreshadowing global demographic trends.
The final essay, “The Effects of Migration Trends on Population Aging and Population Growth in Puerto Rico,” attempts a formal modeling of demographic trends based on the interaction of fertility, mortality, and the composition and net balances in migration (or circulation) flows. Both the data and the conceptual constraints limit the reliability of the resulting projections, but what seems clear is that migrations will play an increasingly significant role in future demographic outcomes.
Although it has limitations, this close reading of the Puerto Rican instance is rich in implications and guidelines for future research.