Puerto Ricans: The New Nomads

By Centro Staff

For the first time in recent history major newspapers across the nation report daily on Puerto Rico. The island’s economic and fiscal crisis, as well as the exodus of Puerto Ricans from the island, has taken prime real estate in the minds of the U.S. media.

But the real story is not just about what’s happening in Puerto Rico. It reaches much further than that. Migration and internal mobility have realigned the stateside Puerto Rican community. Today, Puerto Ricans in the United States confront several new and different scenarios compared to past decades, certainly when compared to the great migration to New York and other cities in the Northeast during the 1950’s.

Centro's Director, Dr. Edwin Meléndez, presented on this topic at El Encuentro Nacional de la Diáspora Puertorriqueña (The National Conference of Puerto Rican Diaspora), a recent gathering of Puerto Rican leaders in the United States. During his presentation, Dr. Melendez highlighted several key elements that define this historical moment, making it one unlike any other in the history of U.S. Puerto Ricans.

First, the stateside population has grown fast over the last decade, to a point where more Puerto Ricans reside stateside than in Puerto Rico. In 2003, equal numbers of Puerto Ricans, 3.8 million, lived stateside and on the island. By 2014, there are 5.2 million Puerto Ricans living stateside and 3.4 million residing on the island.

The South, as a region, and Central Florida, in particular, are the main destinations of interstate movers and recent migrants. For the first time in history, Florida joins New York as a state with more than one million Puerto Ricans.

Though Florida has seen the main bulk of new residents (both from the island and other states), Puerto Ricans in the U.S. are also increasingly dispersed across the nation. Among stateside Puerto Ricans the rate of mobility is higher than the rate for the rest of the U.S. population as a whole or for any other major ethnic group.

Puerto Ricans have, thus, become the model of a modern nomadic community. The reasons for both the exodus from the island and the nomadic behavior of stateside Puerto Ricans is clear: they are seeking jobs wherever these are available.

Migration and inter-state mobility is best understood as a response to the economic crisis in the U.S. and Puerto Rico. For the most part, migration and mobility has induced socio-economic progress among stateside Puerto Ricans, though a significant segment of the population is still unemployed, out of school or work, or poor. For the most part, however, the story is understood, and should be understood, as one of resiliency. The fact alone should empower our communities.

Catch Dr. Meléndez's insights in the video below:

© Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Published in Centro Voices on 16 October 2015.

Centro Voices (ISSN: 2379-3864).
The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of Centro Voices, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies or Hunter College, CUNY.