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Centro's Nation. Centro is creating an online community to strengthen Centro History.

Centro is a research institute that is dedicated to the study Jobs at Centro. Learn about available jobs, work-study, internships What was it like to stroll through Spanish Harlem streets on a warm spring day in the s, to chance upon Puerto Rican pioneers playing games of dominoes before neighborhood bodegas or meet the legendary figures of future colonia history?

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There, he filled the streets of el barrio with strains of Puerto Rican danzas, wafting nostalgic remembrances of the homeland. Owned by Victoria Hernandez, sister of the acclaimed composer Rafael, the store served as a magnet for aspiring musicians. Victoria, a trained musician and entrepreneur gave piano lessons in the back of the store while Rafael created his famous melodic compositions. These compositions, especially the revered Lamento Borincano, became so synonymous with the island home that many believed they were written there. The barrio community inhabited by Hernandez and his musician friends originated with the arrival of Puerto Rican compatriots at the Brooklyn docks in the first decades of the twentieth century.

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The Borough of Brooklyn offered sparse opportunities that nonetheless, seemed abundant by comparison to the difficulties that they had left behind. Since the occupation of the island, an agrarian economy, based on the commercial cultivation of one crop—sugar—predominated.

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Debilitated by hurricanes in andthe unprotected coffee sector received the lethal blow with American preference for Brazilian and Colombian imports. The profitable tobacco sector and needle trades industry were also U. Moreover, the American tariff system bound the island into paying the same prices for imported goods as did the people in the United States, even though the standard of living in Puerto Rico was considerably lower. Such goods consisted of basic foodstuffs, tools, textiles and other consumer commodities.

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An export trade could not be sustained because the island was forced to utilize a United States shipping monopoly. In sum, life in the U. For increasing s of Puerto Ricans, opportunities for a better life existed elsewhere. Pioneer migrants came in search of that better life. Each individual believed he or she embarked upon a personal odyssey, voluntarily executed. The fact remained that island conditions visibly eroded with each passing year and held little promise for conceivable futures.

The years spent as a political and community activist, writer and intellectual began inauspiciously as narrated in the following passage:. The topic of conversation, of course, was what lay ahead: Life in New York. First savings would be for sending for close relatives.

Years later the time would come to return home with pots of money. All of us were building our own little castles in the sky. The oldest daughter of impoverished farmers, Elisa came to work as a nanny and remained in the city for over 30 years. Eventually, she formed part of the return migration when she retired to Puerto Rico in My father always provided for us selling fruits and vegetables at the Puente de Balboa.

But we were poor and as the oldest female, I was like a second mother. The burden of caring for the younger children was always on me.

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InI was invited to go to New York to live with my cousin. I went and stayed. Carolina inwhere a friend sequestered him inside the linen closets. Thus passed the days and nights traveling under strict war regulations, darkness during the night—for the United States was at war with Germany. During the day, I was shining dishes and pans or collecting china from the tables. During the night I went to bed too tired even to be able to dream about them. As the ship dropped anchor alongside a Brooklyn dock and a plank connecting dock and ship was securely fastened in its place, I went ashore as unobtrusively as I had come into the boat in San Juan Bay in Puerto Rico.

Still others followed the trek of the seasonal worker whose propensity to leave the island for employment was already well-embedded in the Puerto Rican psyche.

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The community the pioneers conceived soon spread beyond the boundaries of Brooklyn, spilling across the East River into Manhattan and the South Bronx. Low-cost tenements, cold water flats and railroad apartments that ly sheltered Jews, Italians, Irish and other immigrants now anchored Puerto Rican colonias distinct in their composition.

These, in turn, energized the formation of tightly-knit and self-sustaining neighborhoods. Bodegas and other small businesses supplied basic consumer needs. Information spread, not only through oral exchanges in informal familial settings, churches, schools or social-cultural clubs that soon dotted the neighborhoods, but also through a prolific network of Spanish language broadcasts and print media. The latter encompassed an impressive array of periodicals, dailies, newsletters, radio, stage and cinema.

Regardless of national origin, media bonded together a broad, diverse Hispanic community. Language and cultural maintenance bonded inter-ethnic relations, connected island with New York colonias and the broader Spanish American Caribbean world.

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New York Latinos read Spanish newspapers, listened to Spanish language radio stations, ed groups that promoted language and cultural concerns, danced and listened to Latin music and patronized Spanish language films and stage presentations. An actor, Vando produced and directed original theatrical and musical presentations. Foreign and domestic politics also influenced inter-war enclaves, uniting them in common cause with non-Puerto Rican Latino communities.

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Aware of the powerless position of U. Truly it seems a paradox that, being American citizens, they should be the most defenseless. For these reasons it is here that Puerto Ricans require a knowledgeable individual authorized to represent and advise them in those relationships which, by virtue of the environment in which we, as aliens, find ourselves, must be maintained with other social groups.

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Socially and politically oriented groups labored to protect the civil rights of all Hispanics, a preoccupation that included monitoring international affairs of state in the countries of origin. Puerto Rican groups ed other associations in support of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Hundreds of barrio residents took to the streets to protest the slaying of innocent Nationalist victims, an event bitterly recorded in island history as the Ponce Massacre. Organizations demonstrated against Fascists in Spain and dictatorships in Cuba and Venezuela. Such lessons in solidarity stemmed from a shared heritage in Latin America and the Hispanic Caribbean but even then forecast manifestations of a collective Hispanic or Latino identity in stateside communities. Leadership was more often internal, seldom recognized as such by the wider non-Hispanic society.

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Engaging and enthusiastic, she managed to enlist their participation whenever they were in the city. Local activists also lent valuable support. A mark of their leadership abilities rested on their intimate knowledge of neighborhoods and the local bureaucratic structure confronted on a daily basis. Leadership emerged within a variety of contexts, including the ranks of labor, politics, group formation, and in a small professional class composed of physicians, lawyers, dentists, teachers and social workers. It arose among entrepreneurs, bodegueros grocery store owners and owners of botanicas and was evident among the clergy, nuns, Protestant ministers, missionaries, santeros and spiritualists.

Intermediaries, visionaries, organizers, spiritual and social service providers, all engaged, nonetheless, in performing a multitude of mundane daily tasks and personal interactions required of them in the business of building community. Contrary to popular notions, women played major roles in this regard. Some 20 years later, she launched an impressive campaign within the Pentecostal Church against drug abuse.

Centered on innovative rehabilitation programs, addicts received religious orientation as motivation for a productive life. Among the first to shatter gender barriers in what was then a closed profession, Reverend Rosado Rousseau was also among the earliest to guide her fundamentalist sect into the service of community. Her missionary work nurtured all of the poor multiethnic children in the borough, but it was the plight of the Puerto Rican migrant that sparked personal compassion. An activist since the period of the Depression, Sister Carmelita advocated for the homeless before authorities and helped reinstate evicted families into apartments.

At a time when social welfare services were virtually nonexistent, Sister Carmelita developed health, housing and educational programs through Church auspices such as Catholic Charities. She was also among the first to admit that she capitalized on personal connections with influential figures within the Puerto Rican community, regardless of their spiritual leanings, to secure necessary resources for her programs.

The reality of life in poor, working class barrios meant inadequate health, housing and sanitation conditions, pitiful wages, uncertain employment outcomes, limited access to education and other training opportunities, and exploitation and discrimination. The crumbling tenements or cold water flats that sheltered most Puerto Rican migrants compounded the inhospitable psychological ambiance they inhabited.

Accustomed to life in a multi-racial society, where color barriers played secondary roles to class and culture, Puerto Ricans entered a biracial world where white was viewed as positive, while blackness was devalued. They now found themselves perceived as blacks, sharing the brutal racist discrimination that permeated African American life in the United States. Sociologist Felix Padilla confirms the fact that this negative atmosphere was not confined to New York.

Inevitably, enforced lifestyle alterations resulted from the migration experience bringing about changes that were sometimes assimilated into the culture and at other times rejected. Women increasingly shouldered more of the economic burden.

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In spite of the fact that women in Puerto Rico already comprised some 25 percent of the work force in the early decades of the century, they were nonetheless conditioned to marriage and motherhood as traditional female roles and expected to be supportive mates in a male-dominated society. In the New York colonias, many women assumed responsibility for providing supplementary or even primary household incomes, a situation that often provoked a shift in gender roles within the family.

Working wives with unemployed husbands tested traditional familial codes. They worked in restaurants, laundries, factories; as nannies and as housekeepers in domestic service. They contributed to both the formal and informal financial sectors of the economy, becoming adept at juggling home and child rearing obligations, while working as piece workers in the home needlework industry. Such settings provided the context for the transmission of cultural values, personal beliefs, reminiscences of the island ways and work skills. A sector known for exploitative practices, salaries ranged between six and eight dollars a week.

In some Puerto Rican women were known to have worked in the home for manufacturers, sub-contractors or personal clients, but these figures may have been inaccurate, as the practice continued well into the decades of the 40s and 50s. In Puerto Rican barrios these included institutionalizing the business of caring for children whose mothers worked outside the home and providing room and board for paying non-family members.