Commentary Magazine

Ethnic Clichés

To the Editor:

. . . It seems that we repeat our ethnic clichés. Now, according to Nathan Glazer [“The Puerto Ricans,” July ’63], it’s the Puerto Rican who is gay and light-spirited though slumbound. . . . This is a flagrant, if comforting hallucination . . . permitting putatively serious observers like Mr. Glazer to ignore ravaging contradictions in the Puerto Rican situation.

It is Mr. Glazer’s error to view the Puerto Rican migration in the light of earlier ones . . . to assume that assimilation is inevitable, . . . that the Puerto Rican will be merged into the bourgeoisie. . . . But it is the special circumstances surrounding this integration that make it so difficult. Because of the ease of migration in the air age, the better than average sample Mr. Glazer speaks of is obviously made up of many who in the past would never have left home. The Puerto Rican can go home again and so he finds it impossible in many if not most cases to make a new home. This fact of transiency has not been ignored by students of the subject but it has been dreadfully underestimated. . . . Many return, and return regularly. But even for those who never leave, return is always a psychological reality. . . . The older immigrant by and large had the choice between the allure of America and the magnet of home, a choice decided for him by the economy and geographic facts. The Puerto Rican is in an everlasting personal and community debate over the justification of his presence here.

Thus we cannot expect the experience of past immigration to be repeated. . . . Despite Mr. Glazer’s indication of greater mixing, the Puerto Rican ghetto is almost hermetically sealed, and it is to the profit of many that this continues. . . . There is about the new ghettos a wholly different atmosphere. They are not jumping-off points. With continued migration and fertility at the current rate . . . the Puerto Rican colony as a settlement of urban migratory workers seems a permanent thing.

As the Negro refuses second-class citizenship, so the Puerto Rican condition seems to be heading toward its institutionalization. The Puerto Rican’s doubt about his identity and place here and the ease of returning keep him a stranger even in what may be his native city.

. . . In fact the police and municipal government in general seem satisfied with the institutionalized slum. In the case of the police, any reasonable efforts at law enforcement are terminated when an area becomes largely Puerto Rican. People in such areas usually do not bother reporting burglaries and other “minor” crimes. The official approval of voting for Spanish-speaking U.S. citizens, whatever its merits, is indicated by the intuitive grasp by these men of the special conditions of the Puerto Rican future in New York.

Again, what has developed is a new American phenomenon, at least on the urban scene, of an open, accepted, second-class status. It is so accepted because its content permits the retention of the Puerto Rican identity. In fact the new ghettos are meant to be extensions of Puerto Rico. . . .

In a world of nationalism the Puerto Rican really cannot have been expected to be untouched. The associative arrangement is clever, too clever. It palliates Governor Marin’s population problem but what does it do for the shock troops of the solution? What does it do to a city when a million physical and psychological transients live in it half against their will?

W. P. Gillotti
Bronx, New York



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