Historical Context Part I

A Brief History of Puerto Ricans in Hartford and their Adaptation to the City’s Spaces


Hartford is considered an immigrant city. Since its urbanization, Hartford has been built by immigrant and migrant laborers who brought with them certain social structures and cultural values. Due to the overwhelming amount of immigrants/migrants the city’s social structure changed to reflect the ideology of that specific group. As the group ‘moved up’ the social ladder they would move out of the city and settle into the suburbs, leaving ‘new immigrants’ to move in. Each group added to the expanding diversity of Hartford, this trail outlines how Puerto Ricans utilized the spaces within the city to create a change for themselves and others who will follow. 

As with all other cities, Hartford has a front and back side. One’s impression when arriving to the capital is that of a typical New England city. Its architectural style varies from Colonial, Italianate, Queen Anne, High Victorian, Gothic, Romanesque, Beau-Arts, and Georgian amongst others. The historical movement of people into its interior, however, has given it a sense of spatial asymmetry as waves of newcomers constructed and reshaped Hartford’s neighborhoods according to the needs of their race, culture, and economic status. The spaciousness of a city gave Puerto Ricans the freedom to express their cultural identity as they carved out unique public and private spaces for their own use.


A Heritage Trail of Puerto Ricans in Hartford


Historical records tell us that Puerto Ricans first arrived in Connecticut in the 1840’s, but they did not migrate in large numbers until after WWII. The second half of the twentieth century brought waves of islanders who built visible and viable communities within our state. Like most migrants and immigrants, upon arrival, while they learned a new language, they took jobs that no one else wanted, the lowest paid and least skilled positions. This first generation lived productive, socially conscious lives by establishing their own community institutions, stores, clubs, churches and social agencies. Subsequent generations built upon those institutions and have become community and political leaders. Puerto Ricans have worked hard to raise their families and maintain cultural values, and have made significant economical and cultural contributions to the state’s well being. 

The Puerto Rican community in Hartford has risen to social, cultural, and political prominence in record time relative to other immigrant groups in the region. They have pioneered bilingual education measures, founded innovative agencies like the Hispanic Health Council and Mi Casa, and generously reached out to people of all ethnicities in need. Their cultural imprint on the city is unmistakable, and their history important. This trail helps preserve voices, spaces, and memories that document a community’s foundation, growth, and achievements.

So What is the Puerto Rican Space Today, and How is it Occupied?

Indicators that you are in a Hartford Puerto Rican community are: 1) the music, with its integration of the old with the modern-salsa, merengue, reggaeton and hip hop-pulsing out of car and apartment windows 2) the obvious red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag hanging from car mirrors, window sashes, and doors 3) the distinctive and pleasant aromas that emanate from restaurants, bakeries and bodegas. 4) bilingual sensibilities, both in signage and in street conversations 5) The people come from a wide range of skin color from the most beautiful dark chocolate brown to the impressionable blue eyed, curly hair natural blonde as well as the unique “rubia or roja de botella” 6) As on the island, the men hang out in front of the bodegas sharing their amorous adventures, unemployment woes and whatever else is on their mind. 7) The inhabited public space is open it has no boundaries, it is claimed for traditional holidays and events such as: 3 Kings celebration, the PR parade, Park St concerts, and religious processions. 8) During the Christmas holidays the street lamps are strung with colorful lighting and traditional Puerto Rican aguinaldos, merengues and boleros can be heard emanating from local businesses. 9) The façades of the business are transformed to reflect the ‘Old San Juan’ island architectural style and pastel colors. 10) The people are friendly, quick to smile and say buenos días, o buenas tardes.

These many factors lend character to objects and places making them uniquely urban Puerto Rican.