The Profile of the Puerto Rican Seasonal Migrant Essay
Puerto Rico has an elevated level of migration like the other Caribbean countries. The census in year 2000 stated that almost half of the Puerto Ricans already live in United States. The movement of the Puerto Ricans to United States of America is accompanied by immigration of people from nearby countries like Cuba and Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico.
Despite the high rate of Puerto Rican migration counter movement of people occurs because return migration to their country is also a common phenomenon. This high level of migration and immigration in Puerto Rico led to its calling by metaphors such as ‘a nation on the move’, ‘commuter nation’, and ‘passengers on an airbus’(Potter, 2005).
Migration is defined as the transfer of people belonging to an ethnic group from one geographical location to another. Traditionally, migration has been regarded as a unidirectional change of residence. Changes in the pattern of migration though were observed. Among these change in the migration phenomenon is the emergence of seasonal or temporary migration. In this type of migration, the movement of people out of their country is not permanent because return migration occurs(J. Duany, 2002). People that are employed in other countries excluding their own during a part of a year are called seasonal migrant workers. The status of seasonal migrants’ work is usually related to agriculture(OECD, 2001).
The high level of displacement of Puerto Rican people started along with the occupation of their country by United States and the strengthening of the US agrarian capitalism that resulted to the dwindling of Puerto Rico’s small-scale subsistence cultivation. From 1990 to 1940’s, greater than 90 thousand Puerto Ricans moved to United States(Potter, 2005).
The increase in number of migrant workers that settled in United States instead of returning to Puerto Rico alarmed the federal government of United States. Hence, during World War II the recruitment of Puerto Rican workers were only of a limited number despite the intensive shortages of labor in United States and the high level of unemployment in Puerto Rico(Whalen, 2001).
The government of Puerto Rico criticized the discrimination of the Puerto Rican workers thus the federal government lifted the limitation of migrant Puerto Rican workers in the mainland(Whalen, 2001). The peak of the migration of Puerto Ricans to the US occurred in 1950s. Bulk of the migrants went to Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia because the manufacturing industries of these states had an elevated demand for low-wage workers. Between 1955 and 1970, an estimated one-third of the Puerto Ricans moved back and fort their country(Potter, 2005).
There was a decline in migration to United States by the working class Puerto Ricans during the 1970’s because of the decrease in the demand of manufacturing jobs(Potter, 2005). During that time the scholars thought that it was the end of large-scale migration of the Puerto Ricans.
That belief rose because during that time the population of returning migrants exceeded the number of people moving out to United States. High level of return migration occurred between 1945 and 1965 because of the minimum wage increase in Puerto Rico as a result of industrialization and the reorganization of the industries in New York(J. Duany, 2002).
The migration of Puerto Ricans to United States soared again in the mid-1980s (Potter, 2005). Starting from the mide-1980s, the migration of the Puerto Ricans to United States is not only limited to New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia but dispersed to other areas of United States as well(Potter, 2005).The return of the massive migration to United States during 1991 to 1995 resulted to a higher number of migrants than in the 1980s. Approximately 168,475 Puerto Ricans moved to United States between 1991 and 1995. This figure is comparably higher than the migration to United States in 1980s which only total to 116, 571 individuals(J. Duany, 2002).
The distribution of migrants to other mainland states especially in Florida was due to various factors. One of these factors is the reorganization of New York’s economy specifically in the manufacturing sector. Decrease in job demands occurred in this sector that caters the migrant Puerto Ricans. The next factor is the emergence of other job opportunities in other parts of United States.
The third factor is the lower cost of living and lack of state income taxes in Florida that attracted the Puerto Rican migrants. The fourth factor is the existence in other mainland states of offered housing, medical benefits, and education that comparably better than those offered in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Lastly, the surge of Hispanic people in Florida created an ideal area for Puerto Ricans to migrate because it is closely related to their culture and language(J. R. Duany, FM).
The emergence of Florida as a better area for Puerto Ricans to migrate led to the concentration of migrant Puerto Rican population in this state during the 1990s. The flow of migrants from Puerto Rico to Florida continuously elevated making this state the second United States area with large concentration of Puerto Ricans. As of 2003, the concentration of Puerto Ricans in Florida was approximately 571,755 persons. Puerto Ricans are now the second largest Hispanics living in Puerto Rico especially in the Orlando metropolitan area(J. R. Duany, FM).
In Florida, specifically in Miami, the earliest recorded Puerto Rican migrants were agricultural business owners belonging to prominent families. Their settlement in Florida was followed by the importation of technical personnel from their country to work in their established sugar cane refinery(J. R. Duany, FM). This implies that the pioneer Puerto Rican migrants in Florida belong to the elite class of the Puerto Rican society and their purpose of migration was not to search for better job opportunities. Instead, the purpose of the migration of the elite class Puerto Ricans to United States was to establish their own businesses.
In contrast, the working-class Puerto Ricans move to United States for the purpose of seeking better job opportunities. Seasonal or temporary migration occurs among working-class Puerto Ricans because the purpose of their movement is not to settle in the mainland, instead to temporarily work there and support the financial needs of their families. Different types of jobs welcomed the Puerto Rican migrants in United States. The jobs that the working class gets during their migration depend on the available type of jobs existent in United States.
Between 1940 and 1990, the primary job demand present in United States is in industries that are related to manufacturing products(Potter, 2005). The migrant workers hired by the manufacturing industry were the skilled and semi-skilled Puerto Rican population.
Their jobs were in garment factories, foundries, railroads, and tanneries(Santiago, 1992). Aside from the manufacturing sector, another job with high demand for migrants is the arm forces of United States. Participation of Puerto Ricans in the military of United States is approximately 18,000 in World War I; 65,034 in World War II; 38,000 in Vietnam War; and 61,000 in the Korean War. A total of more than 200,000 Puerto Ricans have served in the United States armed forces(J. Duany, 2002).
Even during the early years of Puerto Rican migration to United States, the agricultural sector has been active employers of temporary or seasonal migrants. Between 1940s and 1960s, thousands of Puerto Ricans migrated to the mainland to work in farms situated in Florida. The farms that cater the Puerto Ricans hired them because they are available source of cheap labor. The jobs of the seasonal migrants in the farms of Florida were harvesters of vegetables and fruits like avocados, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, potatoes, and corn. The period of their work is only during winter thus in summer months some of the migrant Puerto Ricans travel north to work in farms there. The bulk of the migrants though return to Puerto Rico at the end of the farm season(J. R. Duany, FM).
The shift of job demands in United States to seasonal agricultural workers started after World War II. This contract labor in agriculture replaced the decline job demand in the manufacturing industries. The bulk of seasonal farm workers are young male immigrants. Crop agriculture is the primary field of work wherein these seasonal migrants were employed.
The wage of the seasonal agricultural migrant workers during the post-World War II period was comparably lower than the compensation received by those in the manufacturing industry. The Puerto Rican farm workers work without privileges such as disability insurance, minimum wage, and accident insurance. The seasonal status of the work made the working condition was not good because the seasonal Puerto Rican migrants working in agriculture render their services despite the sub-standard working conditions and privileges(Whalen, 2001).
The Puerto Ricans’ seasonal migration to the mainland to work in the agricultural industry was favored by the citizens of the mainland because most of these migrant workers return to Puerto Rico after the working season has ended. Discrimination against the Puerto Ricans was existent thus the mainland citizens wanted the Puerto Rican workers to return to their island country. The mainland citizens still considered the Puerto Rican migrants as inferior class despite their being politically citizens of the United States. The mainlanders do not want the working class Puerto Ricans to be part of their community hence the favorable acceptance to seasonal migrant workers(Whalen, 2001).
Women were only included as seasonal migrant workers in United States after World War II. The job opportunity of women in United States then was as domestic workers in Chicago and Philadelphia. Half of the first population of seasonal migrant domestic workers was satisfied with their jobs while others returned to their country because some of them acquired diseases and jailed after being exploited as prostitutes. Other problems that arise in Puerto Rican women serving as domestic workers in the mainland were the below standard minimum wage they received and greater hours of service than the standard for household workers.
In 1947, the YMCA’s “Standards for Household Employment” indicated that the maximum working hours of domestic workers is ten hours per day with a minimum weekly salary of $25. The Puerto Rican migrant domestic workers were deprived of the proper compensation and maximum number of working hours per day because the contract their contracts stated that they will work fifteen hours a day and their salary would be $15- $16.25 on a monthly basis. These workers work for extra hours compared to the standard number of working hours and yet there salaries were compensated more than five folds cheaper than the standard wage. The employers exploited the Puerto Rican domestic workers and took advantage of the Puerto Ricans’ need for employment(Whalen, 2001).
Employer feedbacks about the Puerto Rican women serving as domestic workers were varied. Some of them complained that the household help they employed does not know how to cook and have limited English speaking capacity. Other employers on the other hand were pleased because the Puerto Rican women domestic help they employed were wiling to work 24 hours a day. Most of the workers sent to United States as domestic workers were young women because of the gender –specific roles and sexual division of labor that is highly observed in the Puerto Rican society(Whalen, 2001).
In the 1950s, more than one-third of the working women population in Philadelphia has jobs in the garment industry wherein they sew either manually or by utilizing sewing machines. The other two-thirds of the Puerto Rican migrant women population work as factory laborers(Whalen, 2001). The jobs of Puerto Rican migrant women in the manufacturing sector were in factories that assemble toys, apparel, furniture, mattress, and shoes.
Other jobs that migrant Puerto Rican women held were in the: meat packing industries, laundry services, hotels, food establishments, baking establishments, and maritime trades(Figueroa, 1996). Majority of the Puerto Rican migrant women working in Philadelphia during that time were not young girls but instead married women that migrated to United States with their husbands. The labor program of the Puerto Rican government that arranged the employment of these married women in the manufacturing industry was considered successful(Whalen, 2001).
The Puerto Rican culture is a patriarchal society wherein there is a gender-specific division of labor. Men work as the provider of the family while the women stay at home and take care of the children. Thus, in the past only men are allowed to work and provide for the family. Despite the latest trend wherein women work as equals with men in the industrialized society, the Puerto Rican women remain as the care takers of the home and children(Toro-Morn, 1995).
The gender-specific division of labor though was changed by the migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States. The mainland culture encourage women to work as equal with men thus Puerto Rican women also want to work despite their gender-specific role as home and children caretakers. The Puerto Rican men especially those belonging to the working-class resisted having their women work. Eventually though migrant Puerto Rican women started to work because their husband’s income is inadequate to support their family as well as the extended families that also migrated to United States.
The number of working Puerto Rican women involved in the labor force increased but their gender-role as caregivers of their family did not change. Thus, the Puerto Rican women struggled with their dual role like most of the women migrants. Aside from being the caretakers of their home and children, they also work to help their husbands meet the financial needs of their families. Puerto Rican women migrants through only work temporarily because when they return to their country they will succumb again to their gender-specific role(Toro-Morn, 1995).
The working migrant women managed to find ways for their children to be taken care of while they are working. These strategies include: leaving their children in Puerto Rico, bringing a relative to United States to take care of the children, having their elder daughters take care of their younger siblings, and finding nannies to take care of their children while they work(Toro-Morn, 1995). Puerto Rican women migrants in United States create networks among themselves that aide in their maintenance of their home and their new role as working mothers.
The migrant Puerto Rican women in United States experience racism and sexual discrimination. Women have difficulty finding jobs because of sexual discrimination. Some health care providers employ racism to the Puerto Rican women by forcing them to undergo hysterectomies and sterilization in order to prevent the proliferation of Puerto Rican population. These procedures are forced because some health care providers consider the Puerto Rican populace as a plague in United States(Espinal).
The seasonal migration from Puerto Rico to United States occurs during March until August every year because this is the period of work recruitment and emigration. These seasonal migrants usually stay in United States until September to January(Ferree, 1981).
The seasonal migrant farm workers return to their country because they did not change settle in United States but instead only stay there for some time to work. Usually the families of migrant seasonal workers are left behind in their country but others move with them to United States(MCN). Thirty percent of the yearly seasonal migrant Puerto Ricans though do not return to their country because they opt to settle in United States(Ferree, 1981).
The migration of the Puerto Ricans though is not unidirectional because high level of return migration also occurs(Potter, 2005). This mechanism of migration has various terms that include: multiple, frequent, circular, revolving, recycling, and cyclical migration. The estimated number of Puerto Rico’s population involved in this migration process is between 10 to 45 percent. The contemporary Puerto Rican society is now distinguished for this unique back-and-forth movement of people. The migration phenomenon exhibited by the Puerto Ricans changed the perspective that migration only occurs in a linear, irreversible movement(J. Duany, 2002).
The Puerto Rican migration to the United States is legal by nature because Puerto Rico is an island territory of the United States of America. Hence, the migration of the Puerto Ricans to mainland is not international migration because these people are citizens of United States. There are no international frontiers crossed by the Puerto Ricans in their movement to the mainland because their country is not a sovereign state but rather a territory of United States(J. Duany, 2002).
They are allowed to move to United States without passports or visas and return to their island-country according to their preference or after the end of their seasonal work(“Puerto Rico,” 1998). The Puerto Ricans as citizens of United States can not be deported when their seasonal job is finished. Even though the Puerto Ricans are also citizens of United States, they do not receive equal rights and privileges given to the other working citizens of United States because their United States citizenship is considered by many U.S. citizens as colonial peoples’ class.
The two countries (Puerto Rico and U.S.A.) do not take control measures on the migration pattern of the Puerto Ricans because they are colonial citizens of United States. This status of the Puerto Ricans is equated with the colonial immigrant status of the West Indians and Africans in their mainland’s Great Britain, France, and Denmark. Movement to United States is not restricted but their rights as citizens are not fully acknowledged. The government of Puerto Rico does not state support or opposition of the migration status of the Puerto Ricans. The migratory phenomenon exhibited by the Puerto Ricans though is still considered as the most effective way to overcome the unemployment and overpopulation in their country(Maldonado).
The back-and-forth movement of the Puerto Rican people between their country (island) and United States (mainland) has various impacts on their society specifically on their economy, culture and politics. With this kind of migration the movement is not only limited to people but rather it also includes: goods, capital, and ideas. Whether the circular migration of the Puerto Ricans has a positive or negative impact in their economy remains a highly debated aspect up to now.
Some writers argued that the circular migration of the Puerto Ricans led to the increase in poverty and deterioration of their countries economy because the people are not active participants of the labor work in their country. Authors like Duany (2002) on the other hand rebutted that the circular migration of the people of Puerto Rico is not the cause of the poverty in the island but rather it is the Puerto Ricans method of adaptation for survival to the existing poverty in their country and their unstable situation in the mainland(Potter, 2005).
The migration of Puerto Ricans to United States is their adaptation to the poverty experience in their country. This is demonstrated by the fact that the migrants belong to the low socioeconomic status in the Puerto Rican society. The migrants often have low level of education and limited occupational skills. These two characteristics of the migrant Puerto Ricans are the factors why in United States they are frequently employed in low-skilled and low-wage jobs. Mostly of the Puerto Ricans not involve in migration to United States are living above Puerto Rico’s poverty line(Ortiz, 1992).
The seasonal migrations of Puerto Ricans to United States for agricultural work despite being source of income also cause various problems to the migrant workers. Among these problems is the little or no compensation coverage. These are usually deprived from the seasonal migrant workers because approximately half of the states in USA do not have policies that secure the appropriate compensation coverage for these types of workers.
The agricultural employers are not required to give the seasonal migrants especially the farm workers the appropriate compensation insurance. The workers are therefore not protected against job-related injuries and illnesses because medical benefits and wage reimbursement are the inclusions of the deprived compensation insurance(FJ, 2000).
Migrant farm workers suffer high rates of morbidity and mortality due to the interlinking of the following factors: restricted health care access, poverty, and occupational hazards. Poverty strikes the seasonal migrant farm workers because their annual income is only $7,500. Despite the very low salary, seasonal migrant workers continue to work in the agricultural sector because it is better than being dependents of charities and welfare organizations. The absence of insurances and appropriate privileges worsens the living condition of the seasonal migrant workers(MCN).
Another problem associated with the migration of Puerto Ricans in United States specifically in Florida is their high incidence of involvement in the criminal activities and their being subjects of employer abuses. The housing conditions of the migrant settlements of migrant farm workers in Florida stirred various issues. Their living condition is criticized as worst than that of the blacks’ central district. These issues led to the discrimination of Puerto Rican workers and decline in the demands of their services. The discrimination though was not able to impede the migration of Puerto Rican workers to this part of the United States because negotiations were done by the both Puerto Rican and United States government(J. R. Duany, FM).
Seasonal migrant agricultural workers and their families are exposed to health hazards associated with their occupation and living conditions. The death rate of workers in the agricultural sector is estimated to be 49 per 100,000 workers annually. The injury and illness rate of agricultural workers is fifty percent increased compared to that of the workers in fishing and forestry sector.
The common health problems associated with the occupation of migrant agricultural workers are: nausea, eye problems, loss of hearing, skin rashes, and backache. These health problems of the migrant agricultural workers can be attributed to pesticides, injuries, sunlight, and low quality of sanitation. Despite the occupational health hazards, still various employers of farm seasonal migrant workers have little concern about the health status of their workers(Sakala).
Among the occupational health hazards of seasonal agricultural health workers, exposure to pesticides is considered as the most pertinent because vast amounts of pesticides are utilized by the agricultural sector. The sales of pesticides in United States are more than $6 billion annually. Primary source of pesticide field exposure are foliar residues while residues in the soil dust is the secondary source.
The principal mode of pesticide exposure is though the skin whereas the secondary mechanisms are through inhalation and ingestion. Consequences of acute exposure are systemic toxicity and damage to the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin. Aside from the minor effects of pesticide exposure, various diseases are also associated to it. Among these diseases are: aplastic anemia, Guillain-Barre syndrome, asthma, chloracne, Parkinson’s disease, Bell’s palsy, hemorrhagic cystitis, stillbirth, and premature birth(Sakala).
The hazard of pesticide exposure is prevented through the establishment of the Federal Environmental Pesticide Control Act of 1972. This act indicates the through the implementation of safety rules in the application of pesticides. The safety of humans especially the farm workers are promoted by this act because standards of safety in application of pesticides were instituted(Sakala).
Prolonged exposure to the sun’s heat is another occupational health hazard of the migrant agricultural workers. Heat stroke, heat cramps, heat rash, and heat exhaustion are among the effects of prolonged exposure to sunlight. Various farm worker deaths and health conditions due to prolonged sunlight exposure have been reported. There are no regulations that protect the farm workers in prolonged exposure to sunlight except the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 which is states that the workplace should be free from any hazards to human health(Sakala).
Injuries related to far work is also among the health hazards that endangers the migrant agricultural workers. In 1985, the rate of disabling injury was noted to be higher in agricultural workers than in the mining and construction workers. The seasonal migrant farm workers are equally predisposed with the permanent farm workers to occupational injuries. The most common injuries of farm workers are musculoskeletal associated(Sakala).
The health of the migrant and seasonal workers is often not given appropriate consideration because they are usually have no medical and health services. The providers of medical care are also reported to be usually not hospitable to farm workers.
There are even health care providers that refuse to offer services to migrant workers. Hospitalization insurances are not offered to more than 90 percent of the migrant workers. The only government policy that promotes health services to be offered to the migrant and seasonal farm workers is the Migrant Health Act of 1962. The migrant seasonal farm workers are not given enough importance through laws that foster health and medical services. The little importance is given to the health of the seasonal migrant workers(Sakala).
The health problems of agricultural workers specifically the seasonal migrants are not addressed by the federal government of the United States. The unaddressed health problems exacerbate the poverty among the seasonal migrant agricultural workers because these workers utilize their limited financial resources in times of diseases, injuries, and other medical emergencies. The temporary status of the seasonal agricultural migrants work is being capitalized by employers and health care providers thus they consider themselves not liable to the health of this worker population(Sakala).
The emergence of various problems regarding the working conditions of migrant and seasonal agricultural workers in United States led to the formulation of policies that protect their rights and privileges. One of these policies is the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act (MSPA) of 1983.
The act provides protection to the migrant and seasonal agricultural workers regarding their compensation, working conditions, health benefits, and work-related conditions. Registry to the U.S. Department of Labor is necessary for any agricultural employers before they can employ migrant and seasonal workers. Through this procedure the migrant and seasonal agricultural workers were assured that their compensation, working-condition, and privileges will be arranged according to the standards in United States(USDA, 2002).
Despite of the fact that the Puerto Ricans are also citizens of the United States of America and their enormous contribution to labor force specifically in the agricultural industry, the white American citizens still does not treat them as equal. The working conditions and privileges of the seasonal migrant workers of Puerto Rico might have been modified but still they are being considered like the other colonial citizens – inferior class. Optimization of the working conditions and privileges according to the standards implemented in the non-colonial citizen workers needs to done by the federal government. In doing this, the federal government of United States not only strengthen the labor force of their country but also will improve the working condition of its colonial people.
Seasonal migration of the Puerto Ricans to work in the agricultural sector of United States is their adaptation to the dwindling economy of their country. The labor contracts accepted by the Puerto Ricans are their means to feed their hungry families. Their purpose in accepting the seasonal nature of their work in United States is dual. The first is having the means to financially support their families. And the second is that they utilize this seasonal migration as an opportunity to settle in the mainland. The economic, employment, and living condition in Puerto Rico is not good thus continuous migration occurs.
Seasonal migration can not be considered as a solution the economic problem of Puerto Rico. Their government needs to search for methods of uplifting their economic conditions that will lessen the migration of its citizens. The displacement of the Puerto Rican population to the United States will continue if the country’s economic problem is not resolved. The circular movement of the Puerto Ricans is a factor in the non-improvement of their poverty status. This migration type also results to changes in the cultural perspective of the Puerto Rican people. Hence, drastic measures need to be implemented by the Puerto Rican government to protect its people.
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