The New Immigrants: Latinos in New York City
By Manuel Hernandez
Puerto Ricans have one of the highest rates of emigration
in the world. According to the United States 2000 Census,
there are approximately 3.5 million people of Puerto Rican
origin living on the United States mainland. The history of
the Puerto Rican migration dates back more than one hundred
and fifty years. The number of Puerto Ricans who migrated
to the United States was greater than the rest of the Islands
in the Caribbean and much greater than those Latinos arriving
from Central and South America because of Puerto Rico’s political
relationship with the United States which granted Puerto Ricans
the right to enter and exit the United States. With the trading
of raw materials from “La Isla” to cities along the eastern
seaboard and political events fired up by Spanish colonialism
in Puerto Rico, Puerto Ricans experienced immigration from
as early as 1860. The early immigrants were mostly political
exiles who opposed Spanish rule on the Island. After the historical
events of 1898, the faces of the Puerto Rican migration changed.
The influx of working-class Puerto Ricans continued to flow
but those working on farms paved their way to New York too.
Today the Puerto Rican migration to New York City has come
to a halt. The large numbers of Puerto Rican migrants have
been reduced to a minimum. In the 1990’s, young, successful
and retired Puerto Ricans from that first migratory wave moved
out of New York, bought homes in Long Island, Florida or moved
back to The Island. The faces of the new New York immigrants
come in different colors and from different countries. Latinos
from Central and South America have overflowed The Big Apple
were their presence. The numbers are overwhelming and speak
In the New York City public schools, Latinos account for approximately
38% of all students. But for too many Latinos, the public
educational system is a hurdle to high for them to jump. The
current Latino high school dropout rate is 26%, three percent
higher than African-Americans and ten percent higher than
Whites. The economic conditions are disastrous when compared
to their African-American and White counterparts. The poverty
rate of Latino children born into poverty rate is higher than
70%, and the unemployment rate is close to 14%.
Statistics from the Citizen’s Committee for Children reveal
a grim reality. The status of education for Latinos in New
York City is in a state of crisis! If nothing is done to deal
with the present situation, it will only get worse in the
up-coming years and decades. The United States Census Bureau
expects the number of Latinos to double in the next 27 years.
Imagine the economic and educational impact of those numbers
in New York City in 2030. While the numbers continue to grow,
less is being done to affront the current educational crisis
in New York City.
The importance of education is often under minded by those
who have the power to implement strategies and initiatives
to improve the current high school dropout rate. Without a
high school diploma, Latinos are prevented from obtaining
a college education and a prospective career. The new millennium
promises to open new windows of opportunity in the United
States. But the educational system has failed to meet the
particular demands and interests of Latinos; this works against
those who want to follow the footsteps of a minority who has
become successful in a world locked out to them in the past.
These doors have opened because of their commitment to hard
work, perseverance and education. How can these doors remain
open if education serves a community that grows in number
but diminishes in knowledge?
The current crisis must be tackled in different fronts. First,
parents must be taught about the importance of a higher
education. Those who are uninterested must accept responsibility
and provide the support to address their children’s greatest
need: education. The outcome for Latino parents may be too
costly to ignore. The needs of a cyber-technological New York
City cannot be met by the ever growing but un-educated Latino
community. Common sense leads us to believe that an advanced
society will serve itself from the better prepared and educated.
There will be less menial jobs for those who do not meet the
demands of “the city that never sleeps”.
Second, there needs to be more hands-on involvement from the
well-educated Latino community. If those parents, big brothers
and big sisters living in impoverished neighborhoods are not
serving as role models, then the few and proud Latinos that
have left must go back to their communities and serve as such.
It is not just a matter of giving back but being back. A very
good friend and Pastor spoke to me once about the “ministry
of presence”. So many of us have moved out and have forgotten
what it took for us to get an education. The well-known Latino
writer, Piri Thomas said once that it is a “matter of dignity”.
Living comfortable has provoked many to alienate themselves
from their roots. One cannot ignore reality. Task forces served
their purpose in the past. We all must serve ours now!
There are thousands of Latino English teachers that can help
those incoming Latino teens with language proficiency problems.
There are thousands of Latino professionals in health that
can dedicate time to provide health care and education. These
are not new ideas, but the fast pace life of New York City
has stripped us from volunteerism and charity work. During
the twentieth century, pioneers of the Latino immigration
movement organized themselves and worked for the benefit of
their community. It is time to get back to basics. It took
the Puerto Rican community in New York almost one hundred
years to find its place in American society. The new immigrants
cannot afford to wait all that time. It is in our hands to
break the cycle