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Immigration Stories Exhibit Case (13 of 16)

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The third section of ¡Presente! is “Immigration Stories.”

The cases explore Latin American immigration to the United States. One case showcases the stories of those motivated by the search for safety, democracy, and opportunity. The other case showcases the growth and impact of Puerto Rican communities across the United States.

Seeking Democracy and Safety:
Label Text and Object Descriptions

Civil wars, oppressive governments, and natural disasters pushed millions of people to migrate from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States.   

Throughout the 1900s, the United States supported foreign governments that favored U.S. businesses and fought communism. Sometimes U.S. foreign policy contributed to the violence and corruption driving people to migrate. The United States backed numerous dictators, including Cuba’s Fulgencio Batista and the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo. Cuban, Dominican, and many other Latino communities still feel the effects of war and revolution. Their stories reveal the human cost of immigration and the contradictions of U.S. foreign policy.   

Clothing worn by Cuban child immigrant who came to the United States through Operation Pedro Pan (Peter Pan)
Black paper-backed photo from a 1940s photo album, belonging to the Afro-Cuban Grillo family.

Seeking Work and Opportunity:
Label Text and Object Descriptions

By 1900, the U.S. economy began to rely increasingly on workers from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Low-wage Mexican workers were essential for maintaining railroads, harvesting crops, and mining in the western United States. This was especially true after the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. Over the 1900s, Mexican immigrants built new communities throughout the United States.  

  

Many others from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Peru, Venezuela, and elsewhere also immigrated for work and opportunity. These immigrants participate in every part of the U.S. economy, from fashion and entertainment to farming and small businesses.  

  

Puerto Rico: Nation within a Nation:
Label Text and Object Descriptions

Today, over half of all Puerto Ricans live on the U.S. mainland. Still, many stay connected to the island’s people, culture, and politics. 

In 1952, Puerto Rico’s constitution established it as a commonwealth (described in Spanish as “an associated free state”). This gave Puerto Ricans control over most of their internal affairs, but always at the discretion of the U.S. Congress. Because the island is an unincorporated U.S. territory, residents cannot vote in presidential elections, despite being U.S. citizens.  

  

Commonwealth status was a compromise between independence and U.S. statehood. For many Puerto Ricans, it continues their colonial relationship with the United States.  

Preliminary rendering of the “Immigration Stories” exhibit case. 
Click to expand image Poster reading “should I go or stay?”
La Semana del Emigrante (Week of the Emigrant). José Melendez Contreras. Courtesy of Puerto Rico Division of Community Education [DIVEDCO] Poster Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History 
Graphic reproduction of a yellow poster featuring a man seated in a thinker’s pose, and reading, “should I go or stay?”
Click to expand image Palante a newspaper printed by the Young Lords
Palante, Volume 3, Number 3. 1971. Loan from Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture 
Late 1960s–early 1970s newspaper printed by the Young Lords; a Puerto Rican youth organization founded in late 1960s Chicago.

Freedom Flights:
Signature Object

This photo shows the first “freedom flight” from Havana to Miami. After the Cuban Revolution, the United States organized flights for Cuban refugees. From 1965 to 1973, around 250,000 Cubans arrived on freedom flights. Many assumed they would return home.  

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