University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez students, in search of the ‘American Dream’

By: Angely Ann Piazza

'Confesiones UPRM', an anonymous Facebook page for UPRM students.

‘Confesiones UPRM’, an anonymous Facebook page for UPRM students.

In a Facebook page called Confesiones UPRM (UPRM Confession in Spanish), students from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez confess their students experiences and anecdotes, anonymously, inside and outside campus. “I graduated this year from UPRM with the idea of getting a job, but the reality is that there are no jobs. By now I imagined being like Tony Stark”, confession #712.

“History always repeats itself”, said Prof. Juan Lara, economist and professor at University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, after reading confession #712 last November 23, 2013. “Today students are passing through the same stage our parents and grandparents passed in the 50’s and 60’s, the brain drain”, he added.

Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s, like today, Puerto Rico suffered an enormous loss of Puerto Ricans to the mainland U.S. During this period, Puerto Ricans, like in the movie La Guagua Aerea (‘A Flight of Hope’, tittle in Spanish), 1993, by Luis Molina Casanova, and the play La Carreta (‘The wagon’ in Spanish), 1953, by René Marqués, migrated to New York to obtain a better job, education, and life style, best described as ‘the American dream’.

During an interview held on November 30, 2013, Alberto Mercado, a historian and teacher at Colegio Espíritu Santo in Hato Rey, P.R., explained that one of the factors of Puerto Rican migration is by what James Dietz called ‘La válvula de escape’ (the escape valve in Spanish). “It all began after World War II”, said Mercado. He explained that in 1948, after the war ended, the government fomented Manos a la obra (Hands to work in Spanish), an economic plan in which the government encouraged Puerto Ricans to migrate because of the overpopulation the island had.

“But, the ‘tomateros’ took the plan seriously” (‘tomato workers’ in Spanish), said Mercado.

According to the U.S Commission on Civil Rights, after Manos a la obra wasofficial, approximately 470,000 Puerto Ricans migrated to the U.S

Puerto Rican farm workers who migrated to the U.S becauese of the loss of employment. (Picture taken from the book 'Puerto Rico, Cinco siglos de Historia').

Puerto Rican farm workers who migrated to the U.S becauese of the loss of employment. (Picture taken from the book ‘Puerto Rico, Cinco siglos de Historia’).

between the 50’s and 60’s. “Puerto Ricans migrated not only because of the government’s plan, but to achieve ‘the American dream’”, said Mercado. “As a matter of fact, back in 1953, Richard Wagner, ex-governor of New York, flew to Puerto Rico to recruit Puerto Ricans saying: ‘There are jobs for all!’, which was unfortunate, because not many found jobs, not the ones they were hoping for, to be exact”, he added.

But on the other hand, Naranjiteño Roberto Rodríguez, 83, was part of the exodus from Puerto Rico to the U.S. in the 50’s and accomplished his dream as a musician. Rodríguez, like many others, migrated with a lack of education. “I only have a fourth-grade education”, said Rodríguez in an interview held November 28, 2013. Despite having been successful in his career as a musician, during his time in New York, Rodriguez returned to the island in order to raise his family.

However, Rodríguez explained that even though he was successful as a musician, every time he tried to find job the answer was the same, ‘we don’t have jobs for ‘Jíbaros’.  In addition, during the interview, Rodríguez mentioned that many of his friends, including himself, identified with Juanita, one of the main characters from La Carreta. “It was a drastic cultural change for us, like for Juanita”, said Rodríguez. “The ‘dream’ wan not as we expected”, he added.

“On second thought, we are all passengers of ‘La Guagua Aerea’”, said Rodríguez. “The difference between today’s students and us, is that, in our time, we carried bags of coffee and caldrons of rice and beans and you kids carry books and iPads”, he added.

Like Rodríguez explained, today’s students are well prepared academically. “That’s why the government calls it the brain drain”, said Mercado. “Us, teachers, are preparing those brains that are leaving”, he added. Additionally, he explains that UPRM students, especially graduate students, come with an installed ‘chip’ that tells them that there is no solution to the brain drain and leads them toward leaving the island, some permanently.

Likewise, Elias Rodríguez Hernández, sixth year student in the department of psychology at the UPRM said on December 9, 2013, “I no longer have faith in Puerto Rico. I used to, but not anymore”.

According to data provided by the UPRM, in June of this year, 571 students graduated with degrees in engineering, 217 agronomists, 763 scientists, and 217 graduates in administrative programs. “[…] But, unfortunately almost none of these important young students will pursue their profession in Puerto Rico”, said PNP representative, Ángel Muñoz Suárez to Diario de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico’s journal in Spanish), last June 13, 2013. “The lack of jobs for engineers is costing us a generation of specialists who could put their talents to best use and development of the island, but by not having opportunities, they decide to go”, he added. “Yes, I will most like go too”, added Rodríguez Hernández

Moreover, Prof. Lara said, “The brains of the island are leaving!”

Special edition, front page of the Puerto Rican newspaper 'El Nuevo Día'.

Special edition, front page of the Puerto Rican newspaper ‘El Nuevo Día’.

“But however, we cannot judge them”, he added. According to Lara, Puerto Rico has been improvising for ten years and still the government does not have an economic plan. “For that reason, students and professionals conforms to the idea to leave”, said Lara.

Based on statistics from 2012, presented by La Junta de Planificación (Board of Planning in Spanish), Puerto Rico’s public debt has been in drastic increase from the 50’s until 2012. In 1950, P.R. had a public debt of 15.9 percent, but in 2012 Puerto Rico’s public debt increased to a whopping 100 percent. “In other words, everything that Puerto Rico owns and produces, it owes back in public debts”, said Lara.

Therefore, Puerto Ricans are trying to survive, explained Lara. “It is hard for a lawyer as it is for a waitress”, he said. “That’s why our professionals and students decide to move, they need to survive the economic suffocation”, he added.  Lara concludes that Puerto Rico may have a small economic improvement in the coming years but despite this hypothesis, Puerto Ricans are better off in search of the old tireless ‘American dream’.

“The only place where ‘dreams come true’ is in Disney World, not in the U.S. Instead of the ‘American dream’ it should be called the ‘Disney dream’, said Roberto Rodríguez.


Puerto Rico, Cinco Siglos de Historia, third edition, by Francisco A. Scarano. Chapter 24.

Article ‘Cientos de ingenieros a graduarse no encuentran trabajo’, by Diario de Puerto Rico.

A special edition of the newspaper El Nuevo Día, September 29, 2013.

Consejo de Educación superior  de Puerto Rico. División de investigación y  documentación sobre la educación superior. SOBRE LA EDUCACIÓN SUPERIOR, goverment document. ‘La Fuga de Cerebros en Puerto Rico: Su Magnitud y sus Causas1’

Book, Puerto Rico en el siglo Americano, Chapter 5, page. 304, Chart 5.15. ‘Emigración es inmigración, P.R, 1950-1983.

Book, Historia Económica de Puerto Rico, Chapter 9, Graph 9.2. ‘Emigracion desde P.R, 1900-2000.

Statistics, ‘Empleo Manufacturero, 1947-1957’ by Dietz, 1989, Table 4.3, page 230.

Statistics, ‘Empleo por Sector, 1959 y 1960’ by Curet, 1986, Table 13, page 68.

Statistics, ‘Emigración Neta, años 1950-2009’ by Duany, 2011, Table 2.3, page 51.

Statistics, ‘Deuda pública y producto nacional bruto’ by Curet, 2003, Table 4, page 38 and Table 35, page 178; Junta de Planificación, 2012, Tables 1 and 29.

Play, La Carreta, 1953, by René Marqués.

Movie, La Guagua Aerea, 1993, by Luis Molina Casonava.


Roberto Rodríguez, 83, Naranjiteño, part of the exodus of the 50’s.

Prof. Juan Lara, economist and professor at the University of Puerto Rico- Rio Piedras.

Alberto Mercado, historian and teacher at Colegio Espíritu Santo in Hato Rey, P.R.

Elias Rodríguez Hernández, sixth year student in the department of psychology at the UPRM.


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