In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Puerto Ricans

  • Introduction
  • Resources and Overviews
  • Early Writings on Puerto Ricans
  • Emergence of Puerto Rican Studies
  • Colonial Contexts
  • Crossings and Connections
  • Puerto Rican Arrivals before World War I
  • The Interwar Era
  • Post–World War II Era
  • Protest Movements and Expressive Cultures
  • Urban Life and Place
  • Gender and Sexuality
  • Labor and Working-Class Histories
  • Autobiographies and Autobiographical Fiction
  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthologies, Plays, and Poetry
  • Documentaries
  • Puerto Rican and Latina/o Studies

Latino Studies Puerto Ricans
Mérida M. Rúa, Carmen Teresa Whalen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 January 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199913701-0107


This article focuses on the study of Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States and Hawaii, providing an overview of history and contemporary issues as well as of the emergence and current vibrancy of the field of Puerto Rican studies. During the 1800s, many Puerto Ricans arrived as political exiles struggling for Puerto Rico’s independence from Spain and as cigar makers, contributing to the formation of pan-Latino communities. As an outcome of the Spanish-American War in 1898, the United States acquired Puerto Rico as a colony and has retained political sovereignty since that time. These political ties facilitated the recruitment of Puerto Ricans to work on sugar plantations in Hawaii in 1900 as well as the transformation of Puerto Rico’s economy, which displaced many workers. In 1917, the US Congress unilaterally declared all Puerto Ricans to be US citizens. With US citizenship in hand, with workers displaced from Puerto Rico’s economy, and with US employers recruiting low-wage workers, migration increased after World War I and again after World War II. Although migration has ebbed and flowed, it has continued. More Puerto Ricans now live in the United States than in Puerto Rico, with communities throughout the continental United States and Hawaii. Despite this long history of migration, scholarship on Puerto Ricans began fairly recently, in the post–World War II era. At that time, social scientists turned their attention to Puerto Ricans, who were arriving in dramatically increasing numbers. Their writings reflected many of the dominant perceptions of their time. This scholarship was then challenged by the “new” fields of study that emerged in tandem with the political and social movements of the late 1960s and 1970s. The interdisciplinary field of Puerto Rican Studies emerged as scholars, activists, and artists worked to recover earlier writings of fiction and autobiographical accounts, studied the causes and consequences of migration, explored the emergence of working-class and transnational communities, and produced and studied the full range of creative writings and production. Increasingly, scholars explored the nuances created within Puerto Rican communities based on differences, including gender, sexuality, race, class, religion, politics, and region. More recently, the field has evolved with analysis of interethnic and interracial relations, and a start has been made on comparative analysis of what Puerto Ricans do and do not share with other Latina/o groups as well as with other racial/ethnic groups.

Resources and Overviews

Two key peer-reviewed journals are dedicated to the study of Latina and Latino populations, issues, and concerns, and each includes research on the structural and social conditions and daily lives of Puerto Ricans. In response to scholarly and popular representations of Puerto Ricans as a problem, the Centro: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies appeared in 1987, and it is considered the premier journal in the field of Puerto Rican Studies. Latino Studies, published since 2003, builds on the foundations of Puerto Rican studies and Chicana/o studies to examine the local, national, transnational, and hemispheric contexts that affect Latinas and Latinos in the United States. It features studies that focus on distinct Latina/o national-origin groups as well as comparative and relational studies of Latinas and Latinos. Research concerning Puerto Ricans and Puerto Rican issues is often found within its pages. Several books provide broad overviews of Puerto Ricans, often framed within traditional disciplinary bounds: Rodríguez 1991 represents a social science approach; contributions in Acosta-Belén and Santiago 2006 and Santiago-Valles and Jiménez-Muñoz 2004 are more historical; and Sánchez González 2001 offers a literary studies perspective. An edited collection, Rúa 2010 includes work of a foundational scholar, Elena Padilla, and contributions from contemporary scholars that reflect on her contributions to urban ethnography. Contributors to Whalen and Vásquez-Hernández 2005 explore the historical origins and contemporary issues confronting various communities of the Puerto Rican diaspora, challenging the predominance of New York–centered studies as representative of all diasporic Puerto Rican experiences. Defining themes within these works include migration, labor, community and identity formations, racial formations, and cultural productions.

  • Acosta-Belén, Edna, and Carlos E. Santiago. Puerto Ricans in the United States: A Contemporary Portrait. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner, 2006.

    A co-authored historical and contemporary analysis of the Puerto Rican diaspora as a commuter nation. In highlighting transnational connections, in relation to identity formation and cultural practices and expressions, it offers a wide-ranging account of migration patterns and the socioeconomic conditions and struggles of communities in the United States.

  • Centro: Journal of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. 1987–.

    A multidisciplinary, bilingual peer-reviewed journal published semiannually by the Center for Puerto Rican Studies. The journal publishes a range of works in a variety of formats— scholarly articles in the humanities and the social sciences as well as interpretive essays, interviews, fiction, reviews, and art.

  • Latino Studies. 2003–.

    A quarterly peer-reviewed publication that promotes and advances interdisciplinary scholarship on Latinas and Latinos. Encompasses the local, national, transnational, and hemispheric realities that continue to influence the presence of Latinas and Latinos in the United States. Research on Puerto Ricans is often published in this journal.

  • Rodríguez, Clara E. Puerto Ricans: Born in the U.S.A. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1991.

    This sociological monograph offers a multi-method (historical, qualitative, quantitative, and textual analysis) approach to the study of Puerto Rican community formation from the post—World War II era to the 1980s. Despite its USA title, it focuses on distinct aspects of community life in New York City—housing, labor, education, racial formations, and popular culture.

  • Rúa, Mérida M., ed. Latino Urban Ethnography and the Work of Elena Padilla. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

    The volume includes an annotated edition of Elena Padilla’s master’s thesis, written in 1947, on Puerto Ricans in Chicago and original essays that reflect on the groundbreaking contributions of her study to US urban ethnographic traditions and to the development of Puerto Rican studies and Latina/o studies.

  • Sánchez González, Lisa. Boricua Literature: A Literature History of the Puerto Rican Diaspora. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

    This provocative literary history of 20th-century diasporic intellectual and cultural production argues that “Boricua literature” should be read as independent from a Puerto Rican, island-centered literary history and as created under a unique set of colonial circumstances in the United States.

  • Santiago-Valles, Kelvin, and Gladys Jiménez-Muñoz. “Social Polarization and Colonized Labor: Puerto Ricans in the United States, 1945–2000.” In The Columbia History of Latinos in the United States since 1960. Edited by David G. Gutiérrez, 87–145. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

    A useful overview of Puerto Rican migration and communities that proposes an alternative, relational, and historical framework to consider social and structural inequalities. Puerto Ricans are examined within the context of the vast changes in the global economy, as part of a world-historical process of colonized labor formation, and as racialized subjects.

  • Whalen, Carmen Teresa, and Víctor Vásquez-Hernández, eds. The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005.

    An edited volume of original essays that offers a comprehensive, comparative macro-history of Puerto Rican migration, as well as micro-histories of distinct Puerto Rican communities in the United States, covering locations in the Northeast, Midwest, and Hawaii. This anthology departs from New York City–centered studies of community building and political and cultural practices.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.