Hartford has always been considered an immigrant city. The distinct features of such a city, complimented by spacious neighboring areas, gave Puerto Ricans the freedom of cultural expression as they carved out a unique identity in a new landscape. 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 they took jobs that no one else wanted, all while learning a new language and having the lowest paid and least skilled positions.
Early stories told by the first generation Puerto Ricans illustrate an ambitious people who would work hard to send earnings back home to help family that had been left behind. Some came to make money to purchase a house back on the island, others came to build houses and make a permanent home on the mainland. Although Hartford was not the former lush, tropical haven of colorful colonial buildings and agriculture, the migrants used what they had, motivated by the desire to seek and create opportunities in a freer and more economically viable environment. Over time, the affection and emotional investment in this new environment broadened their interests, and community leaders rose to catalyze the feelings, visions, and hopes that established an environment that was supportive and welcoming. 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 integral community leaders rising to social, cultural, and political prominence in recent decades.
They have pioneered bilingual education measures, founded innovative agencies and generously reached out to people of all ethnicities in need. Puerto Ricans have strived to maintain and promote cultural values, and have made significant economical and cultural contributions and impact on the state’s well being. This level of prominence has taken the form of municipal councilmen, state representatives, mayors, corporate directors, school superintendents, presidents of colleges, public safety officials such as fire chief, and of course, doctors and lawyers.
Renowned for being a traditional and celebratory culture, holidays and events such as the 3 Kings Day Celebration, the Puerto Rican Day Parade, concerts, festivals and religious processions boast the vibrancy and jubilance of the heritage all year around. During the Christmas holidays, the street lamps are strung with colorful lighting and decoration while traditional Puerto Rican aguinaldo, merengues and boleros emanate from homes and businesses. It is not uncommon for people to take to the streets in celebration during sporting events involving Puerto Rican competitors to demonstrate the fiery pride that is typical of Puerto Rican culture. Time-honored music such as salsa, merengue, romantica, freestyle, and other Latino genres now infused with modern reggaeton and hip-hop can be heard pulsing out of car and apartment windows, especially at the onset of Spring and Summer. The obvious red, white and blue Puerto Rican flag hanging from car mirrors, window sashes, and doors complimented by distinct pleasant aromas that emanate from restaurants, bakeries, and bodegas permeate the capitol city with the spirit of the island.
Today, Hartford has become one of the largest Puerto Rican communities in the United States.
In 1960 Connecticut had 15,247 identified Puerto Ricans, and grew in 1980 to 88,361. By 1990 Connecticut had the 6th largest Puerto Rican population in the United States, Hartford having the most concentrated Puerto Rican population. Currently, Connecticut has the largest percentage of Puerto Ricans (7.1%) per state population according to the 2010 U.S. Census, and continues to have the 6th largest overall Puerto Rican population in the United States behind New York, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.
These humble beginnings have set the foundation for the majestic impact and unique signature on American history and culture. The CICD Board of Directors, as representatives for the city of Hartford and state of Connecticut, are devoted to honoring the past and embracing the future by enriching the lives of younger and current generations in the spirit of our predecessors, to instill a lasting cultural legacy.
Inspired and written by Carol T. Correa creator of the Puerto Rican Heritage Trail
2012 revision by Nnamdi Singletary-Secretary of the Board