"I Was More of a Citizen": A Puerto Rican Garment Worker Describes Discrimination in the 1920s
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“I Was More of a Citizen”: A Puerto Rican Garment Worker Describes Discrimination in the 1920s

by Luisa Lopez/Blanca Vazquez

We generally think of Puerto Rican migration to the U.S. mainland as largely a post-World War II phenomenon, since more than 800,000 Puerto Ricans came to the United States between 1940 and 1969. But immigration actually started much earlier in the century; between 1915 and 1930 more than 50,000 Puerto Rican migrants headed for the United States—especially New York City. The new immigrants faced a mixed reception, particularly from immigrants from other countries. In this interview for the radio program “Nosotros Trabajamos en la Costura”(We Work in the Garment Industry), garment worker Luisa Lopez told how she faced discrimination from European immigrant workers when she went to work in garment factories in the 1920s. Yet sometimes alliances crossed ethnic lines: Lopez found an ally in an Italian-American socialist.

Listen to Audio:

Luisa Lopez: I was working in a shop called El France Dress Company in El Barrio, on 104th Street. The Italian girls didn’t want us to sit down. The rest of the girls refused to work, ah, because they didn’t want to work with Puerto Ricans. So, ah, when I saw that, so went to the union and I spoke to the manager and I told him what happened. He was an old-time socialist, the most wonderful person you ever came to know, his name was Joe Piscatello. He called everybody to the union and I explained to him, you know, that after all, I’m also an American. I told him I am more American citizen than some of these people are that don’t even know how to speak English. He gave them hell. He gave them hell. All right, so we all went back to work.

Source: "Nostras Trabajamos en La Costura" by Blanca Vazquez, Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY.

See Also:Burned into Memory: An African American Recalls Mob Violence in Early 20th century Florida
"Such Cases of Outrageous Unspeakable Abuse...": A Puerto Rican Migrant Protests Labor Conditions During World War I