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October 25, 2005

DIY: How to Adjust from a Move to the U.S. from Puerto Rico

Today's "How to" article courtesy of English-blog contributor Emily S.:

The Process of Adjusting

Emigrating from Puerto Rico to America can be very life changing. Despite the fact that Puerto Ricans are considered citizens automatically upon arrival to this country, there are a lot of other aspects of living that can place stress on a person, the first one being a language barrier. If prior to moving one did not place any emphasis on learning the English language, then it could perhaps prove difficult to learn it. Another stressful factor of moving from Puerto Rico to the US, are the stereotypes placed on the new arrivals by fellow Hispanics and likewise by Americans. They are looked down on for not being able to speak English and for continuing to have their old customs. Lastly, emigrants are forced to face the frowns that come from relatives left behind and the possibility of never being accepted again as a true Puerto Rican . . .

. . . Communication is the key to getting around in a new country. If there is anyone around, directions are probably close at hand. As a child, one is expected to pick up the language immediately in order to help the parent get around. However, what people usually do not remember, is that children can be very cruel when it comes to talking to or playing with the “foreign” kid. It is very difficult to make friends and a lot of the time it is hard just to learn, especially if kids are placed in an English class where not even the teacher speaks Spanish. This can be very stressful to a child. One is unable to feel welcomed in the new country and to top it all off, the parents expect too much out of them.

After learning the accented English, the new arrivals now have a greater chance of being identified by fellow Hispanics as being “jibaros”. This term is used to identify a Puerto Rican who is still displaying signs of being from their mother country and whose customs haven’t changed in order to fit those of Americans. They tend to only have friends who are also new arrivals to the country and stick with those friends until they have broken through this stage. Another identifying factor that can clue people in on the fact that they are jibaros, is that they perhaps still do not have the proper language skills, educational background, or working skills needed to get a professional job in the United States, capable of allowing them to provide for their family. Many new arrivals end up applying for welfare and are stuck working “under the table” jobs that are illegal because welfare usually doesn’t even begin to cover living costs. Because of these economic restrictions, one tends to dress in second hand clothing, usually from a thrift store or they continue to wear the dress style used in Puerto Rico before they left their motherland.

Living situations tend not to improve unless a well paying job is secured. One usually moves in with a family member who has taken the step to move to America prior to one’s own move. They tend to be very generous but it is an unspoken rule that the steps toward moving out should be made quickly. When enough money is earned to move out, the new location tends to be a small studio apartment meant to house one person but instead is converted to accommodate a family of four or five (Hispanic families tend to be larger than this estimation). If a grandparent has taken residence with the family as well, she usually tries to provide for herself by selling traditional foods that are homemade and are sold to neighbors. Word of mouth among a small lower class neighborhood is usually the best sort of advertisement because that lower class neighborhood is filled with people of the same cultural background who can appreciate cheap homemade traditional goods that they truly miss from back home.

Once the economic situation begins to change, the kids start to grow up and get used to living in their new country, friends are made among the community, and a type of routine is established, then living in America ceases to feel like a daily ongoing struggle. One begins to miss just being around extended family, but new ‘‘family’’ is made among friends and that feeling tends to not be present on the minds and heart of the younger generation. The older generation dwells more on those memories of loved ones left behind and they dream of a time when they will be able to provide their children with a strong foundation in this new country and they can finally leave them to go back to the home they left behind. As a part of the younger generation, one is more detached from that other life that was once seemed so grand. The “land of opportunity” now starts to actually resemble what it hints at. A new tongue is spoken. One that starts to cloud thoughts and dreams until one stops thinking in that old familiar language and only reverts back to using it when forced to.

This last stage of the moving process is the most crucial. Instead of identifying one self as a Puerto Rican, one begins to see one’s self as an American. Even though the knowledge of where one came from is still present, one can no longer say that they live and breathe the fresh air of the island and experience that sweet warm sunshine and breeze that is always present. The beloved sounds of birds and the ever present coqui frogs are gone. Relatives start to call those who live out there in America “gringos”, a term usually only used to identify the Caucasian race. They call to ask for the riches that one has acquired in this wholesome land but they don’t ask to see about one’s health. And so starts the process of identifying yourself with the Americanized people instead of the Puerto Rican people one once thought they were a part of.

~ Emily S.

*NOTE: For more English-Blog DIY or "How to . . ." articles, please click HERE!

Comments for Emily's article "The Process of Adjusting?" Please leave them below:

Posted by lhobbs at October 25, 2005 12:48 AM

Readers' Comments:

Emily S.,

As Emily S. says in her essay, “The Process of Adjusting,” moving from Puerto Rico to the U.S. can be quite a culture shock. In her essay she explains how things like learning the English language, Puerto Rican stereotyping, and disappointment from relatives back home can create a rough environment for immigrants. Emily goes into more detail and describes what it is like for an adjusting Puerto Rican. She describes what it is like for a Puerto Rican child to go to an American school and the treatment received from their classmates. She also explains the roles of the parents and grandparents. She says that it’s tough for them to make a living in America and that their family back home doesn’t respond well to the immigrating family leaving them. In her closing lines Emily says that eventually there is a conversion that is made within the younger generations where the immigrants no longer consider themselves part of the country that they left behind, but as an American.

Emily’s essay was rather confusing in it’s entirety. First of all the essay is set up as one for all immigrating Puerto Ricans, but it seems to be more of a story for one specific family. It’s not clear whether Emily is talking about a personal experience or an experience of a friend’s. It’s even possible that she read a story about someone’s experience and decided to write an essay about it, but it’s not stated anywhere. Because this essay is not written like it happened to a specific person or group of people it doesn’t make any sense. After the reader is done with the essay they are left confused and wondering where Emily got her expertise on the issue. It’s impossible to think that every family that moves into the United States from Puerto Rico is going to go through the same stages. It’s not that the essay is a bad essay; it’s just the way the material is presented that needs to be changed. It seems like it should be written in first person or about a specific person or family. The set up is too broad for the information. Emily’s thesis statement is rather weak as well. It’s doesn’t clearly define where she is going with her essay. Her essay is about Americans being to hard and pre judging Puerto Rican immigrants. It seems like she thinks Americans might not be so prejudice if they knew what the Puerto Ricans had to go through. If something like this were stated in the opening paragraph then the rest of the body would line up rather well. There is a lot of evidence throughout the essay to support this statement and at the end the reader should be able to conclude the same thing.

I think that Emily had a great story to tell about a transition she or someone she knew made from Puerto Rico to America and the processes involved with that, but she went about doing it the wrong way. However, there were some good points made in her essay. Emily brought to light how many Americans judge Puerto Ricans because they wear scummy clothing and work lower income jobs. She highlighted some of the hardships that weighted down on the immigrants’ shoulders and made it more clear to the reader that they weren’t just scummy. Given the knowledge that she has about this subject I think Emily could write a great and interesting paper if she just changed her perspective a little bit.

Sam H.

Posted by: Sam H. at April 10, 2006 01:12 AM

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