By Suset Laboy
2014 marked a watershed moment in the history of Puerto Ricans in the United States. Florida became the second state in the nation with a million Puerto Ricans, right behind New York. The current migratory wave, which is as substantial as that of the 50s, has left more Puerto Ricans living stateside. At Centro, we have been researching and reporting on this migratory trend for some time now, including on the recent data released by the American Community Survey confirming a million Puerto Ricans in Florida. The numbers suggest and continue to suggest important questions—What does the data mean for Florida’s cultural, economic, and social makeup; for U.S. Puerto Ricans more generally? We reached out to two academics and a seasoned journalist in the state for their insights. We share their responses below:
The makeup of Puerto Ricans in Florida is quite diverse, combining longtime residents with newcomers both from other states and Puerto Rico.
Jorge Duany, an anthropologist and Director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, sketched the panorama of Puerto Ricans in the state, explaining, “According to 2013 census estimates, 40.5% of all Puerto Ricans in Florida were born on the island, and most of the rest were born in one of the fifty United States. This is one of the greatest sources of internal differentiation within the Puerto Rican population, as it tends to coincide with generation, age, and language preferences, as well as prior lived experiences of migration and resettlement. Another major source of diversity is the socioeconomic composition of the community, given the wide range of occupational, income, and educational characteristics of Puerto Ricans in Florida. The presence of a well-educated, bilingual group of managers and professionals is a distinctive feature of the recent Puerto Rican exodus to Florida, although the idea of a ‘brain drain’ may be exaggerated. The majority of Puerto Ricans in Florida actually work in sales, office, service, and blue-collar occupations. Lastly, the population is fractured along racial lines, with a majority of those coming from the island defining themselves as white, while many of those coming from other parts of the United States describe themselves as neither white nor black, but as members of ‘some other race.’”
Expanding on the question of the diversity of Puerto Ricans in Florida, Fernando I. Rivera, a sociologist at the University of Central Florida, teased out several of the groups that make up Puerto Ricans in the state: “I would say that there are several groups within the Puerto Rican population in Florida. One group is the native ‘FloriRicans,’ those that have been here for several years and have seen the growth and development of Florida, particularly the Central Florida region. This population encompasses Puerto Ricans in Miami, Tampa, and other areas of Florida, particularly areas with military bases.
“The second group is those from the Northeast that have followed the patterns of movement of other populations from this region. This group of ‘Nuyoricans’ find Florida attractive due to the lower cost of living, warmth, and access to Puerto Rican/Caribbean culture. By far this group has been more active in representing Puerto Ricans in different Florida institutions such as politics, business, education, philanthropy, and art.
“The third group is the ‘Islandricans’ which represent those migrating directly from Puerto Rico. This group is reminiscent of life in Puerto Rico and has provided different venues to reproduce the experience of growing up in Puerto Rico. From establishing ‘lechoneras,’ specialty barber shops, music festivals and concerts, and other cultural expressions. Several fraternities and sororities from the Puerto Rican Greek system have established chapters in Florida and are actively trying to reunite and socialize with members living in Florida.
“The last group are the ones on the move, these Puerto Ricans have lived in Puerto Rico, the northeast, Florida, and other places. They tend to move seeking better economic opportunities and will follow those opportunities whatever it takes them.”
The jury is still out on whether the diversity of groups will produce a cohesive Floridian Puerto Rican identity like those produced in earlier migratory waves.