Florida and New York both have over one million Puerto Rican residents. It makes sense that legislators from these states are thinking about Puerto Rico and taking action on Puerto Rico status bills. Some readers might be surprised, though, to see legislators from Nebraska or Indiana stepping up as cosponsors for HR 1522, the Puerto Rico Statehood Admissions Bill.
First, Puerto Rico’s political status is important for all Americans. A congressperson or voter from a state with fewer Puerto Rican residents should still be concerned about the civil rights of fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. They should still care that the U.S. possession of what is essentially a colony is not compatible with American ideals of democracy.
But there are Puerto Ricans living in the Midwest, too. Overall, about 9% of stateside Puerto Ricans live in the Midwest.
The history of Puerto Ricans in the Midwest
Chicago’s large Puerto Rican community came not directly from Puerto Rico, but from New York, in the 1930s. By the 1960s, Puerto Ricans lived in many suburbs of Chicago as well.
The community grew, and now Paseo Boricua is officially recognized as a Puerto Rican community. Its high school is named after Roberto Clemente. The local Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture is the only national museum focusing on Puerto Rican history and culture.
The Chicago office of the Puerto Rican Department of Labor recruited Puerto Ricans to work in Chicago, but also in other Midwestern cities, such as Milwaukee and Lorain, Ohio. Newcomers in the 1940s were part of the agricultural migrant labor community, but they soon settled in Midwestern towns. In the 1950s, Puerto Ricans from the Island came to Milwaukee to work in tanneries and other manufacturing facilities.
Cleveland is another Midwestern city with a high proportion of Puerto Rican residents. Missouri and Minnesota also have significant populations of Puerto Ricans.
After Hurricane Maria, a number of Midwestern cities recruited workers from Puerto Rico, and some 10% of those who left Puerto Rico for states chose to go to the Midwest.
Representing the Midwest
The Members of Congress who represent the Midwest have a responsibility to Puerto Rico, not only because Puerto Ricans helped to build their states, but also because Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. As a territory, Puerto Rico has no voting members in Congress, and no senators. The legislatures from the states have to make decisions for Puerto Rico because Puerto Rico has a limited voice in American democracy.
The voters of Puerto Rico used their voice in 2020 (and 2017 and 2012) to choose statehood. Now Members of Congress from states must take action. Only Congress can admit Puerto Rico as a state.
If you see your representative here, please thank them for respecting Puerto Rico’s vote for statehood.
If you don’t see your rep here, please reach out to them and let them know that you want them to cosponsor HR 1522.