Harvest of Empire

by Juan González

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In chapters 4 to 9, what are some comparisons in the migration and acclimation of three major Latino groups in the U.S.?

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Puerto Ricans were the first Latinos to migrate to New York City, followed by Mexicans. Most Mexican Americans trace their residence to Spanish colonial times, when much of what is now the southwest was a part of Mexico. Migration for Dominicans was motivated by political opposition to the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic in the 1950s and 1960s, but middle-class people often found it difficult to obtain equivalent professional employment once they arrived.

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Three significant groups that are classified as Latino in the United States are from Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. For all groups, racism and the related segregation and discrimination in housing, education, and employment are major issues. Migration for Puerto Ricans is classed as “internal migration” because they are US citizens. There are more people of Puerto Rican origin on the mainland, especially in New York, than on the island, and most Puerto Ricans have family members in both places; many people routinely travel back and forth. The high concentration of people of Puerto Rican heritage in particular neighborhoods, such as “Spanish Harlem” of New York City, both creates a strong sense of community and impedes assimilation.

For Mexican Americans, migration is not necessarily a characteristic of their residence or identity. Because the American southwest and much of the west was colonized by Spain and most of it was formerly part of Mexico, millions of people of Spanish heritage traced their residence to there before the United States existed. Programs such as the bracero program brought Mexican workers to America do farm work during World War II. Although agricultural workers still constitute a large portion of the Mexican American labor force, extensive activism has changed conditions considerably, and Mexican Americans are represented in most areas of employment.

For Dominicans in the 1950s and 1960s, political opposition to the Trujillo regime was an especially important motivator for migration. Dominicans tend to be concentrated on the East Coast. Owing to the imposition of slavery during colonial times, many Dominicans have African ancestry. Anti-black racism is a stronger element of discrimination against Dominican-heritage people in the United States. Because of the political nature of flight, middle- and upper-class people were well represented in the mid-century waves, but they often found it difficult to obtain equivalent professional employment once they arrived.

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If you are talking about chapters 4-9, then you are talking about the entirety of Part 2 in Harvest of Empire.  This part, aptly named "Branches" does talk a lot about the differences in "migration and acclimation" of the different nationalities as you ask about in your question.

The literal "Branches" of the Hispanic "tree" are spoken of each in turn in Part 2 (and chapter by chapter):  Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Cubans, Dominicans, Central Americans, and Columbians. The first branch, Puerto Rico, is near and dear to the author's heart because it is his own heritage.  Puerto Rico is a special case in that people from there are considered full citizens (although often looked down upon by whites).  This is the reason why the author labels them both foreigners and citizens.  Migration for Puerto Ricas is easier, however, due to their citizenship. The second branch, Mexicans, are considered "pioneers" of a different type.  Not being citizens, like the Puerto Ricans, there is great hardship in coming over the border.  There is either a mountain of paperwork or a huge journey in traversing the border illegally.  Whether legal or illegal, Mexicans are then exposed to much racism on the other side of the US border.  The next branch, the Cubans, are considered "special refugees" in that they are fleeing a communist country.  Even though they are welcomed a bit more than the Mexicans into the main population, they still have their share of issues.  Again, there are legal and illegal immigrants from Cuba, some of them fleeing through harrowing boat rides from Havana to Key West.  The final chapters are about the Dominicans, Central Americans, and the Columbians and their unusual nuances about their migration and acclimation due to them having none of the extraordinary circumstances of the first three groups.  Even though each "branch" has its differences, they all vow to combat both racism and division.

In conclusion, it is important to note the context of this second part called "Branches" that includes chapters 4-9.  The author did many interviews from people of all different aspects from each Latin American nation.  The interviews are included in the text and lend directly to the text's richness.  The part about Puerto Rico is also quite special in that in contains the author's autobiographical information.  Further, each "branch" of Hispanic America is shown to have both similarities and differences that enrich the entire culture as a whole.

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