NEW IPO Logo - by Charles Larry Home Search Browse About IPO Staff Links

Illinois Issues Summer Book Section

Insightful portrait of Puerto Ricans


Felix Padilla. Puerto Rican Chicago.
Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame Press, 1987.
Pp. 256 with index. $26.95 (cloth).

Felix Padilla's book does not make pleasant reading. It exposes both the suffering of an important segment of Chicago's urban population and the forces which frustrate Puerto Ricans' efforts to find stability and fulfillment as partners in making the city that is supposed to work, work.

In his State of the Union address, President Bush spoke about the urgent problems in Puerto Rican life, which now demand solution. All who want to understand these problems, as they affect not only Puerto Ricans in America but also U.S.Puerto Rico relations, can learn much from the sociological analysis presented in Puerto Rican Chicago.

The book's opening chapter is heavily theoretical. The impact of U.S. colonialism on Puerto Rico is documented. Padilla offers a sober critique of the influence of U.S. sociopolitical arrangements on the tropical island and its people. This introductory overview helps to explain why dependency, drug addiction and lack of political organization have plagued Puerto Ricans, bringing protest and conflict to Chicago. Indeed, the most complete analysis of the Puerto Rican riot of 1966 that I have seen is provided in this book.

Puerto Rican Chicago also depicts the strength of a people. Their creative spirit in battling such ills as the dropout problem is traced. How organizations have been fashioned around culture, religion and — on occasion — a wider Latino identity is also explained. Padilla, who grew up in the Puerto Rican barrio, includes poetry and photos in this portrait of a people seeking self-determination.

The reader gains respect here for how Puerto Ricans have banded together to promote their common interests. Put into sociological perspective by this book are their famous and proud institution, the Caballeros de San Juan Credit Union; the emotional leadership which helped to fuel Harold Washington's victory; the colorful, festive parade on State Street and the Humboldt Park celebrations which follow.

Padilla also checks any tendency to see a monolithic Latino/Hispanic presence in Chicago rather than to view Puerto Ricans as one major group facing unique challenges there. Puerto Rican culture finds expression in the Spanish language and in a history of dependency, first under Spain and then the United States. Puerto Rican leaders have often been misunderstood in the United States because of their zealous defense of their culture, which many believe to be under siege. Puerto Ricans are born U.S. citizens, yet excluded from the Anglo-dominated core of the U.S. culture, and they might be viewed by other immigrants as ungrateful for the status of citizenship which many envy.

Puerto Rican Chicago, as a beginning effort, will no doubt improve with future editions. But for now, it stands as a significant contribution to the popular, us well as scholarly, understanding of an essential part of the Chicago mosaic.□

Samuel Betances is a professor of sociology at Northeastern Illinois University.

July 1989 | Illinois Issues | 26

Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO) is a digital imaging project at the Northern Illinois University Libraries funded by the Illinois State Library