CITY LIMITS’ September/October 2004 issue has a timely article, Adios, Nueva York, about the Puerto Rican exodus from New York City during the last decade. According to the 2000 census, NYC lost 10% of its Puerto Rican population between 1990-2000! While many left for the island, a significant number have headed to surprising destinations like Lawrence, MA and Reading and Allentown, PA, doubling the overall Latino population in each city — 60%, 37% and 24% respectively.
The article itself focuses on Allentown – the metropolitan neighbor of my theoretical oasis, Bethlehem – and the troubles migrating Nuyoricans, primarily from the Bronx, have faced upon their arrival. A frying pan to the fryer scenario in many cases, particularly for those in the lowest income brackets.
One of those interviewed laid part of the blame on some newcomers’ attitudes: “It’s people coming lately from New York. They move here and don’t change their lives. They play their loud music; they sell you-know-what on the corner. I see them coming and I cross the street.” Sadly, this wasn’t some PA native speaking wistfully of Allentown’s long-gone status as an “All-American City.” Instead, she’s an older Latina from Brooklyn who moved there with her husband and three kids in the late ’90s.
For many of the low-income migrants – those represented in the article, at least – it seems the biggest problems come from unrealistic expectations. Lacking a HS diploma or GED is going to make life tough no matter where you go, even more so in places like Allentown with restructuring economies.
Middle-income professionals have always been the best candidates for migrating to smaller cities, the equivalent of suburban flight, leaving the poor to fend for themselves in neighborhoods that quickly become ignored and effectively trapping them in a vicious cycle of poverty. At best, any hope for the future lies with the next generation but, of course, the odds are stacked against them, too.
The dirty side effect of the American Dream being an individual competition instead of a communal act?