Research Question

There has been a long and complicated relationship between Puerto Ricans and the United States of America, a relationship that still exists today, and nowhere has this been more profoundly illustrated than New York City. Throughout the 20th Century, and specifically after the Jones Act of 1917, Puerto Ricans were both US citizens and colonial subjects. After World War Two there was a substantial increase in Puerto Rican migration to the USA yet they were met with official government discrimination, tension with other migrant groups, and poor conditions in housing and employment.

The Puerto Rican population is New York has historically coalesced around two areas; East Harlem (El Barrio) and Alphabet City/Lower East Side (Loisaida). In the former the 1960s were marked by a growth in radical nationalist groups. Most famously the Young Lords took influence from the Black Power movement and Maoism and campaigned against racism and poverty and in support of Puerto Rican independence. While initial successful, by the middle of the 1970s these organizations had fallen into terminal decline. However, it was also at this time that the Nuyorican movement emerged from Loisaida and began a renaissance of Puerto Rican art, music, theatre and poetry.

The primary focus of my research will on the Nuyorican cultural movement, with an initial emphasis on the Nuyorican Poet’s Café. My research will predominantly look at how the emergence of the Nuyorican movement was related to the collapse of the radical Puerto Rican movements of the 1960s, how the Nuyorican movement related to continued Puerto Rican activism within New York, and how the shift from a strictly political project to more broader arts based one affected Puerto Rican identity and struggles for recognition.
I plan to make use of the archival collection at The Fales Library, including but not limited to the Gathering of the Tribes Archive and the Ron Kolm Papers. Fales also holds a number of audio and video recording which will be integral to studying an arts and cultural movement. There are also additional images and archival sources in the Latino Literature database. I will visit the Nuyorican Poets Café itself to photograph archival material stored within the building and potentially to conduct interviews. I hope to supplement all of this with newspaper reports from the 1970s. Secondary material will focus on both the Puerto Rican experience in New York and the development of New York arts movements.

The main problem I anticipate is language. While I may be able to translate certain material this will certainly not be the case for much that I find and I will not be able to interview or speak with people that only speak Spanish. How much this will affect the project has yet to be seen.

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