In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria hit both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricane Maria was a category 5 hurricane that devastated both islands and caused many homes to be uninhabitable. Mercy Corps states that Hurricane Maria was “the worst storm to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years” and caused 130,000 Puerto Ricans to leave the island for the U.S. mainland.
Hartford’s Connection with Puerto Rico
A large percentage of the institutions who were interviewed had connections to Puerto Rico, which encouraged their motivation to assist those migrating into Hartford. Catholic Charities and their Institute for the Hispanic Family has strong ties with individuals of Hispanic descent and stated that disaster relief in this case was “near and dear to their hearts.” Individuals we spoke to from other institutions, such as the Hartford Public School System, Capitol Region Education Council (CREC), Trinity College, and Capital Community College, had personal ties to Puerto Rico and were adamant about helping the island itself and the displaced families here in Hartford as much as they felt was necessary.
Why Did So Many Puerto Ricans Choose to Come to Hartford?
Mass destruction and devastation was caused in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Consequently, as was stated by Carlos Vargas Ramos in his article “Storm Surge”, around 13,000 came to Connecticut, a vast majority of them choosing to settle in Hartford. One representative from the Hartford Public School Welcome Center mentioned that more than 470 students used their services to register into the school system. Through our research and the interviews we conducted with City Council members as well as our contact in the CREC offices, it was evident that the families and individuals arriving in Hartford from Puerto Rico had every intention to work hard and earn a living. One Councilman stated that “they didn’t come here to receive state assistance or city assistance. They came here to work, they came here to find a new place to live, to reestablish themselves because what they had over there is gone” to counteract any assumption of ulterior motives for migration to Hartford.
“Falta de trabajo, y todo esto buscar un mejor futuro también para mis hijos” : “the lack of employment, and to search for a better future for my kids”
According to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, in 2014, “Connecticut was the sixth state with the most Puerto Ricans (301,182) in the United States.” Before Hurricane Maria, “a third of the Puerto Rican population in Connecticut was concentrated in Hartford” (Ramos, 2018). Therefore, Hartford was a popular option due to the already large Puerto Rican presence in the city.
When interviewing both institutions and families, we began to question why Hartford was on the radar of so many individuals living in Puerto Rico, and why there was so much confidence that the city of Hartford would produce the aspirations of better housing and employment options. It became clear that the large Hispanic population, of which Puerto Ricans already were a large percentage, had a significant influence on their choice of migration to Hartford. Many of the individuals who we spoke to mentioned that they had family or friends already living in Hartford who they stayed with or connected with to begin transitioning into life in the city. Catholic Charities also mentioned that the large population of Puerto Ricans in Hartford alone was a reason as to why many chose to migrate here. Regardless of knowing friends or family in Hartford, it was clear to many that their language and culture would not be completely lost or unfamiliar if they transitioned to life in Hartford.
The goal of the displaced families was to find stable and safe housing, as well as employment to support their family. Interviews with the families themselves suggested that better living and employment opportunities than could be found in Puerto Rico after the natural disaster were reasons they chose Hartford. Of the six interviews conducted with the displaced families, many mentioned that the access to medical care that accommodated the Spanish language was another driving force in the decision to come to Hartford specifically.