The Formation of Puerto Rican Identity in Philadelphia: Institution Building and
Organized social networks and outlets for cultural expression were elemental in
forming Puerto Rican identity in Philadelphia.
The first social networks found in Philadelphia were informal ones. In the late 19
and early 20
century, the concentration of Puerto Ricans in the city was not very high, so
immigrants turned to other already established Spanish-speaking groups for aid. These
informal groups provided the initial tools for survival- they were able to direct new
migrants to work, affordable housing, and, most importantly, spoke the same language. The
shared language was perhaps the most basic and essential element in establishing pan-
Latino enclaves within the city. Without a heavy Puerto Rican presence in the city,
immigrants depended heavily on thr advice and influence of Cubans, Spaniards, and other
Latinos. These Latinos gave Puerto Ricans their first semblance of an identity in their new
Los tabaqueros, or the cigar makers, were instrumental in establishing not only
Puerto Rican, but Latino identity in the city. Many of los tabaqueros came from latin
American and the Caribbean in search of work. In general, los tabaqueros were educated
individuals. They had a particular set of skills, were informed and well versed in literature
even if they were illiterate, were politically involved, and thought to be organizationally
savvy. The cigar rollers were among the first to form mutual aid groups and also formed one
of the first established community groups, called the Cigar Makers International Union.
These small but pivotal labor groups played an important role in giving Puerto Ricans a
voice in Philadelphia.
As the city moved into the 20
century, it saw an immense increase in migration of
working middle-class Puerto Ricans. These Puerto Ricans settled into the already largely
Latino areas, until Spring Garden, Southwark, and Northern Liberties came to be pan-
Latino enclaves. During this time, four social groups formed which were pivotal in
establishing Puerto Rican voice and identity in Philadelphia.
The first two, La Milagrosa and La Fraternal, share an important connection. Both
were built within a year and only a few blocks from each other, and acted as the thread that
stitched the three pan-Latina enclaves tightly together. La Milagrosa was a church which