Exploring the Latino Metropolis: A Brief Urban Cultural History of US Latinos

Nuyoricans - Movements and Politics

At the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898, the United States had gained a new territory, Puerto Rico. With the addition of Puerto Rico, a new opportunity for immigration was opened. While at first there was little migration, by the end of World War Two, there was a major spike (from 18,000 in the 1930s to 417,000 in the 1950s) in the amount of Puerto Ricans entering the United States, with many heading to New York (Lehman UP). The influx of Puerto Ricans in New York expanded neighborhoods, increased populations, and caused new ethnic relationships to form.

Ethnic relations related to immigration are often accompanied by some amount of conflict, whether between the ‘native’ citizens and the immigrant population, or among multiple immigrant groups. With this tension, there can be a push to assimilate, or a push to repress. Nevertheless, Nuyoricans have embraced their heritage, maintaining cultural ties, while also gaining political influence and clout.

New York has been largely “tropicalized,” as Nuyorican culture and politics provide “identity possibilities in contradistinction to [the] (Anglo-American) society," according to communications scholar Darrel Enck-Wanzer (361). This ultimately means that Latinos, specifically Nuyoricans, have the opportunity to retain their autonomy, while also becoming part of the mainstream. Tropicalization is a mentality, a way to look at the changing political climate in the City. Nevertheless, one must be wary, as it has the potential to become “hegemonic,” turning individual ethnicities in to commodities (Enck-Wanzer 352). With any ethnic or meta-ethnic category, social scientists run the risk of oversimplification, which has detrimental effects on the individual cultures.
Regardless of the implications of tropicalization, Puerto Ricans have long been a political force in New York politics. There are many forms of political expression, none simpler than pride in one’s identity. An example of this is the flying of the Puerto Rican flag in the City. Aside from speaking entirely on tropicalization, Enck-Wanzer comments on the flag, noting its “presence and deployment […] in El Barrio” to the point of “symbolic rejection of U.S. American identity and reaffirmation of Puerto Rican identity” (356-7). The flag represents more than solidarity among Nuyoricans; the flag is a symbol of autonomy, reminiscent of the robust Latino spirit.
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