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Latinos Shifting Political Trends


Switching gears now, there's been a lot of discussion about changing demographics in this country. A new census study projects there will be no ethnic majority in the country by the year 2060 and, while that's a fascinating possibility, it might also mask some of the changes within ethnic or racial groups. In New York City, for example, the Latino population has been going through what some may consider a surprising transformation. Puerto Ricans, who've long been the largest Latino group in that city, are leaving while the Dominican population has been growing.

And these changes have had an interesting impact on politics in New York. Ed Morales is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and he wrote about this issue for He recently spoke with Michel Martin.


Welcome. Thanks so much for joining us.

ED MORALES: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Now, you've noted that, since 2000, the Puerto Rican population in New York has decreased and, as we said, the Dominican population has increased. Now, the Puerto Ricans are still the largest group of Latinos in the city, but the Mexican population has also increased dramatically. Why is that?

MORALES: Well, the reason for that is it's a little unusual because most of the Mexican immigration to New York is from a city called Puebla in Mexico and a lot of that actually has to do with the relationships that have been established with the original Mexican immigrants to New York City and the people in Puebla, so it's an unusual connection, whereas, you know, much of the immigration to the rest of the country comes from many different cities.

MARTIN: And why are Puerto Ricans leaving?

MORALES: Well, Puerto Ricans are leaving for a variety of reasons, some positive, some negative. There's certainly a group of Puerto Ricans that have gotten access to education and have been able to move to the suburbs or different parts of the country. There are a lot who had been employed in civil service jobs that have retired and gone back to Puerto Rico. But, because Puerto Ricans don't do very well in economic statistics or in income statistics or in educational statistics, many have just moved back to the island because they haven't really made a good go of it here in New York.

And then there's another group that have moved to Orlando, which is now becoming a big magnet for Puerto Ricans, particularly because of the Disney Land employment and various other factors and that's actually affected the whole Latino vote in Florida, as well.

MARTIN: That's interesting. So why are Dominicans - why is the presence of Dominicans increasing in New York?

MORALES: Well, it's - the economic situation is not very stable in the Dominican Republic and there are a lot of strong ties between people on the island and people in New York City. One thing that's not generally known is that the original immigration from Dominican Republic in the 1960s had much higher numbers of middle class and well-educated people coming out of Dominican Republic because, basically, that immigration was spurred as a kind of escape valve for a lot of the instability that was going on in Dominican Republic after the fall of the Trujillo dictatorship.

So Dominicans actually have done better in a shorter time in New York, basically because a higher percentage of them came from a somewhat higher social class and they were able to actually fill the gap of a lot of the Puerto Rican small bodega owners who had moved on to other things and much of the bodega business is dominated by Dominicans now.

MARTIN: From the outside, people talk about this particular ethnic group as a group, like, oh, they're Latino, but within the group, you can be what? You can be Puerto Rican. You can be Cuban-American. You can be Dominican. You can be Mexican-American, as you said, or - so do you see a tension there between the Puerto Rican residents of New York who've been there or who maybe go back and forth and the Dominicans? Is there a sense of or is there a strong kind of in-group consciousness that way?

MORALES: Yeah. There are some problems with the rivalry between Puerto Ricans and Dominicans and there's really a lot of reasons for that. A lot of the rivalry stems from the fact that Puerto Ricans have been granted U.S. citizenship since 1917 and Dominicans have had to go through the kinds of struggle with citizenship and questioning of their presence in the city that Puerto Ricans haven't had to. That's part of the resentment and, also, the Dominicans are the later arrivals, so there's that.

And then what a lot of people are not aware of is that there is a fairly significant migration of Dominicans to the island of Puerto Rico, which is actually a group of people who are from a relatively lower social class than the ones that come to New York and they're treated very poorly in Puerto Rico sometimes with the same kind of rhetoric that some people in the United States reserve for Mexican-Americans, that - you know, that is that people are coming in to take the jobs away from Puerto Ricans in Puerto Rico on the island.

So that stuff gets around and so, you know, it stirs up some rivalry, but I do think that - in general, I think that there is a strong cooperation between the two groups.

MARTIN: Do you have a sense of whether the conversation that we're having and the trends that we're seeing, including the rivalries, are just New York or do you see this as something that might be playing out in other places around the country eventually?

MORALES: Oh, yeah. Well, I think, already, there is a strong rivalry between Mexicans and Salvadorians in California and the west. I mean, I hear about that a lot. It's actually - I think it's a very parallel situation to Puerto Ricans and Dominicans with El Salvadorians being considered the later arriving group and the group that gets dumped on.

But, again, it's also cultures that are not totally dissimilar. I mean, you know, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans are much more dissimilar than Mexicans and Salvadorians or Dominicans and Puerto Ricans because the dividing line there would be a general association either with the Caribbean or with the Mexican, Central American body of land there in that area.

MARTIN: Ed Morales is a professor at Columbia University. He's a freelance journalist and he was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York.

Ed Morales, thank you for joining us.

MORALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.