Connecticut is home to the largest proportion of Puerto Ricans in the continental United States, so it is expected that we will see one of the largest influxes of U.S. citizens coming from Puerto Rico to the mainland. Although it’s difficult to estimate the exact number of new arrivals, the state has received over 700 calls from people displaced from the Island and who need help.
Within Connecticut, the Hartford Public School district enrolls the largest number of English learners in the state, a large percentage of whom come directly from Puerto Rico. As educators, we are extremely concerned for the welfare of our Puerto Rican neighbors here in Connecticut, their families on the island, and those on their way here looking for refuge from hardship.
More than two months after Hurricane Maria, nearly half the island is still without power and people do not have access to basic necessities like clean drinking water. So, it can be expected that many from the island will be seeking refuge with friends and family on the mainland of the U.S.A. This issue affects a cross section of all citizens.
Recently, Zuma Toro, the President of Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), canceled a week-long schedule of inauguration ceremonies to, in part, help give more time and energy to helping her family relocate from the island, and she is only one of the many thousands of Connecticut residents who are helping friends and family resettle here or in other parts of the mainland. It is, unfortunately, but perhaps not surprising, that this migration spike has also revealed a great deal of hate and ignorance about Puerto Rico and its relationship with the USA.
So, here is a brief background of the island:
- People have lived on the island of Puerto Rico for 4,000 to 5,000 years. The Taíno people inhabited the Island at the time of Columbus, who brought transatlantic slavery, torture, and disease to the island.
- Puerto Rico remained an important post for Spanish settlement, or colonization, until 1898, when the U.S. military invaded and claimed control of the island. Although the island was never a state, it has been a U.S. territory / Commonwealth since that time.
- Prior to the recent natural disaster, Puerto Rico was home to approximately 3.4 million U.S. Citizens.
- Spanish is the primary language spoken in Puerto Rico and has been for hundreds of years.
- Since Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, they can move freely from the island to the mainland at any time.
- Connecticut has the largest proportion of residents with Puerto Rican ancestry of any state in the nation, approximately 278,000 people.
- Given the severity of the recent natural disaster (on top of the island’s long-standing economic challenges), many Puerto Ricans have and will be relocating to Connecticut, among other states, to seek safety, stability, and support.
Despite a spattering of negative comments on social media, individuals and organizations in Connecticut have and are reaching out to assist our fellow citizens relocate. Here are some highlights of the positive work that our own organizations are doing to support these families:
- The CCSU-Ana Grace Project Relief Effort is raising funds for relief aid, as well as scholarships for eligible individuals from the disaster areas who wish to pursue educational opportunities at CCSU. The CCSU-UPR Airbridge program supports students from the University of Puerto Rico to come to CCSU. As of the time of this writing, 22 students have arrived and have begun taking classes at our state universities.
- The Hartford Public School district has delegated a team of school employees as well as community partners to provide support and resources to new arrivals. Fundraisers have been conducted and a district plan is in place to settle new students from Puerto Rico in the schools and with the teachers best equipped to meet their needs.
These are just two examples of responses that show thoughtful care for our fellow Americans. In times like these, our country typically comes together to support one another. It should be no different when those in need are living on the island of Puerto Rico.
Jacob Werblow, Sheldon Watson, and Teresita Galarza are from the Department of Educational Leadership, Policy, and Instructional Technology, Central Connecticut State University.