Part 2: Branches, Chapters 4–5 Summary

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Last Updated on January 30, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1057

Chapter 4: Puerto Ricans: Citizens Yet Foreigners

In this chapter, Gonzalez tells his own family’s story of immigration to the contiguous United States as an example of the Puerto Rican experience. He claims that Puerto Ricans were the first Latino group who migrated to the US en masse beginning in the 1940s, making them the first Latino group that Anglo Americans interacted with outside of the Southwest.

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Gonzalez tells of how his grandmother Maria was forced to separate her six children from one another after their father’s death left her in abject poverty. This made Gonzalez’s father, Pepe, the embittered victim of child sexual abuse, an experience that left him depressed and severely alcoholic. Throughout their childhood, Gonzalez’s father and his siblings witnessed the rise of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party led by Pedro Albizu Campos. The Nationalists clashed with the US-controlled government, often resulting in violence, as in the Palm Sunday Massacre. 

During World War II, Pepe and his two brothers were drafted into an all-Puerto Rican regiment that fought in France and Germany. Although the young men’s military checks helped Maria pull the family out of poverty, the family left for New York City after the boys returned, fleeing the violence and mounting tensions between Nationalists and the government. Many other Puerto Ricans departed for the same reason.

Gonzalez’s family settled in East Harlem, a neighborhood mostly comprised of Italian immigrants, and found work in restaurants, factories, hotels, groceries, and other service industries. Racial tensions within the neighborhood were kept under control until a longtime-Congressman, an Italian who represented East Harlem in Washington, lost reelection in 1950. Gonzalez explains that many Italians blamed Puerto Ricans for this loss, resulting in the growth of street gangs to protect each group from violence or disrespect.

Gonzalez notes that by the 1960s enclaves of Puerto Rican immigrants existed outside of New York City in Ohio, Indiana, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania. Despite this growth, Puerto Ricans were still often treated as invisible at best and foreigners at worst. Gonzalez himself experienced the education system’s forced Americanization, which discouraged Puerto Rican children from using their native language or identifying with their culture.

Over time, Gonzalez’s generation—the children of the first Puerto Ricans in the US—were assimilated, relying on the education system to achieve a higher quality of life. Despite this perceived success, many Puerto Ricans grew disillusioned with the American Dream, especially as African Americans pushed for civil rights, only to have their most prominent leaders assassinated. Puerto Ricans, according to Gonzalez, felt they did not belong in either white or black communities, instead striving for their own kind of cultural empowerment in the 1970s.

By the 1990s, economic recession coupled with social problems had created a sharp class divide within Puerto Rican immigrant communities. At the top were the educated, white-collar workers, but the largest groups were low-paid, unskilled laborers and welfare recipients. According to Gonzalez, this new generation of Puerto Ricans lacked a sense of collective identity or hope for the future, both of which contributed to many Anglos’ negative perceptions about Latinos.

Chapter 5: Mexicans: Pioneers of a Different Type

Gonzalez notes that Mexicans have been the single largest group of immigrants to come to the US since statistics were first gathered in 1820. Contrary to common beliefs among Anglo Americans, Mexican immigrants have always played a key role in the settlement and culture of the country.

Gonzalez discusses the history of the Canales family, beginning in the...

(The entire section contains 1057 words.)

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Part 1: Roots, Chapters 2–3 Summary


Part 2: Branches, Chapters 6–7 Summary