Immigration from the Spanish-speaking World

Millions of immigrants from around the world arrived in the city in the early decades of the twentieth century. Tens of thousands of them came from Spain and the Spanish-speaking Americas, propelled by economic, political, and military upheavals, as well as by individual circumstance.

The biggest contingent came from Puerto Rico—or “Porto Rico,” as the U.S. renamed it (a change that lasted until 1932). The newcomers joined fellow islanders who had settled here in previous decades. The passage of the Jones Act in 1917 extended American citizenship to Puerto Ricans and facilitated their migration to mainland communities.By 1920 there were 7,364 Puerto Ricans in New York, a number that would grow substantially over the next decade.

Baseball used by Esteban Bellán, 1871. Courtesy of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, NY. The New York & Porto Rico Steamship Company—commonly known as the Porto Rico Line—began business in 1890 carrying sugar from Puerto Rican mills to New York refineries. The company initiated passenger service in 1896, and by 1909, vessels came and went every week between New York and the island. “Sailings every Saturday,” the flyers advertised.
Tourists headed south for sun and relaxation. Island residents steamed north to seek jobs and education, often joining relatives who had already put down stakes in the city.
Typical journeys in 1917 lasted 4 to 5 days. Before 1928, ships docked near Brooklyn Heights at Pier 35; later travelers disembarked at Pier 16, at the foot of Wall Street.  
Porto Rico Line memorabilia. José Rafael Méndez Archives.