By Victor Vázquez-Hernández
In the closing days of 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau began to release the data collected earlier this year. For Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora (US-based), the 2010 census has a particular historical meaning --- it marks the 100th anniversary since the first US Census, back in 1910, started counting Puerto Ricans as a separate group. It would be a good time for our community to take stock of where we are and how far we have come in one century. For the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR), which will be hosting its 9th National Puerto Rican Convention in Miami on October 7-9, 2011, these new data present us with the opportunity to put together a status report on Puerto Ricans in the U.S..
What will the data from the 2010 Census tell us? What long-term comparisons can we make about our presence in the US? Puerto Ricans were present in the US since before 1910, and have been here, in some cities in particular, for some five generations. What will the Census tell us about how we fare compared to other migrant/immigrant groups in the U.S.? These will be important questions to ponder as we struggle to make sense of the Census data and what it tells us about our communities stateside and, if recent data is any indication, the results of the 2010 Census are going to be a mix bag for us.
On the one hand, the data already released confirms what Angelo Falcón, President of the National Institute for Latino Policy told us back in 2004: there are now more Puerto Ricans living in the U.S. than on the Island. The Census also confirms that Puerto Rico lost 2% percent of its population since 2000, a significant loss. We know, at this point, that most of those who left the island have come to live in the U.S., mostly to other Puerto Rican communities. But, we can also see that the Census will confirm that the Puerto Rican Diaspora is, well, more diasporic, i.e., more dispersed. It now appears that Puerto Ricans have followed the general pattern in the U.S. of internal migration from the Northeast and Midwest to points South and Southwest. Florida is now clearly the state with the second largest Puerto Rican population in the country. In addition, states like Texas, Arizona, and California are now among the ten states with the largest Puerto Rican populations in the U.S.
In terms of socio-economic factors, the 2010 Census is likely to reflect some significant gains for Puerto Ricans but also some troubling areas as well. Among Puerto Ricans in the U.S., there are probably more college graduates than ever, more homeowners and more who have moved into middle-class status. But these trends are probably going to vary from region to region. For instance, in terms of education, recent studies conducted in Philadelphia and New York City have found that Puerto Rican youth are graduating high schools at a 50% rate. In those cities, Puerto Rican youth are being outperformed even by newer immigrant groups, namely Dominicans and Mexicans. And while Puerto Ricans made national news with the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor, a second-generation Puerto Rican from the Bronx to the US Supreme Court, and José Acaba, the first boricua astronaut in outer space, there are disproportionately more young Puerto Ricans incarcerated than in college.
So, while we have much to celebrate and contemplate after 100 years of Census data, it's time to take serious stock and determine where we go from here. For its part, the NCPRR will convene a working group to produce this status report and calls upon anyone interested in participating to contact us. We also invite everyone to attend the convention in Miami where the report will be made public and call upon our communities to engage in a conversation about ... "¿dónde estamos y hacia dónde vamos?" (Where are we and where are we heading?).
Let the conversation begin.
Victor Vázquez-Hernández, PhD is President of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights (NCPRR) and an Associate Professor of History at Miami Dade College. He is co-editor of The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives (2005). Dr. Vázquez-Hernández can be reached at vvazquez(at)mdc.edu