Empire City: Intersecting Diasporas and Migrant Neighbors in 20th-Century New York

AHA Session 129
Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room A704 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Atrium Level)
Harry Franqui-Rivera, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, City University of New York
Atlantic Neighbors: Puerto Rican and Italian Intersecting Diasporas in 20th-Century New York
Simone Cinotto, Center for European and Mediterranean Studies, New York University
Trailblazers and Harbingers: Mexicans in New York before 1970
Julie Leininger Pycior, Manhattan College
Harry Franqui-Rivera, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, City University of New York

Session Abstract

Employing a compelling comparative framework, this session analyzes the lives of twentieth century Italians, Mexicans, and Puerto Ricans on the streets of New York and in relation to their home regions -- all of it in the context of overarching structural factors.  Italians famously arrived at Ellis Island a century ago by the hundreds of thousands, but the first few Mexicans who migrated to New York City also entered through this famous immigration station: in their case from the Gulf region.  They came as part of the Caribbean migration that included so many people from Puerto Rico; indeed the question of whether Puerto Ricans were required to pass through Ellis Island ended up in court, reflecting their fraught citizenship status as residents of a US colony.  Simone Cinotto (New York University) and Julie Leininger Pycior (Manhattan College) address the transnational factors that linked these two regions to New York, while Cinotto and Aldo Lauria Santiago (Rutgers) limn the interaction between Puerto Rican and European-heritage -- especially Italian -- New Yorkers in the context of race, labor issues, and deindustrialization in a global economy.  The small community of Mexican New Yorkers, meantime, faced less discrimination than did both New York Puerto Ricans and Mexicans in the Southwest, notes Pycior, citing some of the factors at play, and also spotlighting two New York Mexican women who gained fame for their cultural achievements: writer María Cristina Mena and composer María Grever.  Indeed gender issues play out in all three papers, as do other important variables ranging from the role of municipal policies to coverage by the media (from ethnic publications of various stripes to mass-circulation New York newspapers to news reports emanating from San Juan, Sicily, and the Yucatan.)  The intersecting and contrasting patterns revealed in these papers yield important insights into the AHA conference theme, “Global Migrations: Empires, Nations, and Neighbors.”  Moreover, this session, with its probing examination of immigration and labor issues, promises to provide valuable historical context for these topics as they are sure to arise in the presidential contest of 2016.

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