Migrating race: migration and racial identification among Puerto Ricans

Migrating race: migration and racial identification among Puerto Ricans

Ethnic and Racial Studies
Volume 37, Number 3 (2014-02-23)
pages 383-404
DOI: 10.1080/01419870.2012.672759

Carlos Vargas-Ramos, Research Associate
Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Hunter College, City University of New York

The pattern of racial identification among Puerto Ricans is not uniform. It varies depending on where they live. Most identify as white, but more do so in Puerto Rico than in the USA. This paper addresses the impact that living alternatively in the USA and in Puerto Rico has on racial identification among Puerto Ricans. Using Public Use Microdata Sample data from the American Community Survey and the Puerto Rico Community Survey 2006–2008, I find that while there is no single pattern of impact, those more grounded on the island’s racial system are more likely to identify as white in the USA, while those less grounded in Puerto Rico are more likely to identify as multiracial or by another racial descriptor. On their return to the island, they revert to the prevalent pattern of racial identification, while still exhibiting effects of their sojourn on their racial identity.

Census data on Puerto Ricans and race manifest the contingent nature of racial identity and identification and how specific racial formations impact an individual’s understanding of race and racial identification. Despite contemporary projections of Puerto Ricans as a multiracial people (Davila 1997), in fact a mulatto nation (Torres 1998; Duany 2002). the majority of Puerto Ricans portray themselves as white in the context of official statistics. This is the case for both Puerto Ricans on the island and in the USA. Their location, however, determines the proportions by which they identify as white or as something else.

Presently, more than half of the 8.3 million people who identify as Puerto Ricans live in the USA. Moreover, there is a recurrent movement of migrants between the island and the USA, with net migration reaching the hundreds of thousands between decades (Rivera-Batiz and Santiago 1996; Duany 2002; Acosla-Belen and…

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