Organizing for Social Services: Puerto Rican Women and the Migration Division in New York, 1948–70

Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:30 PM
Delaware Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Emma Amador, Brown University
This paper will examine the experiences of Puerto Rican women that sought assistance from the Migration Division of the Puerto Rican government’s Department of Labor in New York between 1948 and 1970. Within this Puerto Rican agency located in the U.S., a network of Puerto Rican social service professionals developed new forms of transnational casework with migrants. Migration Division representatives worked with labor migrants who arrived in the United States from the island. This essay focuses specifically on how working-class Puerto Rican women turned to the Migration Division when they faced racial discrimination and were denied health care, housing, education, and social service. The paper shows how as Puerto Rican women led a day-to-day struggle to claim access to social services in the United States, and faced hostile institutions and administrators, they turned to the Migration Division for help. In doing so they made this agency a fertile space for organizing for the rights of Puerto Rican citizens to social services. It also highlights the relationships that emerged between working-class women and Puerto Rican government officials (many of whom were middle class Puerto Rican women) in the space of Migration Division as the agency took on the role of intermediary and advocate for migrants. While both tensions and solidarities emerged from these interactions, women’s struggle for rights within them reveals how the space of the Migration Division became a platform for community organizing and participation in civil rights struggles.
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