The aftermath of the Fraunces Tavern bombing in NYC, 1975.
Throughout my career as a student of history, I’ve been fascinated by my ‘homeland’s’ past: Puerto Rican history, that is. Going through many books and articles on contemporary Latin American history, I always felt that Puerto Rico was left out of the equation. It was, at times, too American for its own good. It didn’t have an inherently ‘Latin American’ story to tell. It had an uprising in 1950, but it was nowhere near as explosive (or at all successful) as the revolutions in countries like Guatemala, Nicaragua, or Cuba. It had nationalist movements, predominantly leftist Marxist, but nowhere near as popular as the Sandinistas or M-26-7. But, there was one facet of Puerto Rican history that always seemed to pique the academy’s interest: the diaspora. Countless Puerto Ricans migrating in droves from the island, whether it was financial crises or natural disasters, to the United States mainland. What if, I thought to myself, those exoduses brought with them nationalist intellectuals, activists, and extremists? It was a question similar to that of the chicken and the egg: was Puerto Rican activism home-grown on American soil or was it brought to the US? My project proposal below goes into further detail.
Overall, I think the most challenging parts of this project will be two-fold: ArcMap and census data. I’ve found a good deal of documents regarding the bomb sites and communiques written afterwards by the FALN. However, it’s the other side of that data-mining portion that worries me. For example, Social Explorer only has data on Puerto Rican populations from the 1980s onward. It would be up to me to find and then geo-reference that data into ArcMap (which, if the databases are out there, shouldn’t be too difficult). As for ArcMap itself, our presentation on the program wasn’t kidding. There’s a good reason as to why this program suite offers a class and a B.A. and M.A. in it. It’s difficult and I wonder if I’ll be proficient enough in time to use it effectively. As with all things, it’s matter of staying flexible!
After Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 2017, islanders left for the United States mainland in droves. Florida, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Illinois were the top five states to receive the highest influx of Puerto Ricans. But, even before 2017, large waves of Puerto Rican migration to the mainland had occurred before. Since the 1950s, this phenomenon of the Puerto Rican ‘diaspora’ has defined Puerto Ricans as a people and formations of Puerto Rican nationalism. Questions as to whether a migrant is still a Puerto Rican while living in the US frequently arise in primary and secondary literature. However, this identity conundrum didn’t stop groups like the Young Lords, the FALN (Armed Forces of Puerto Rican National Liberation), or the EPB (Boricua Popular Army) from taking to the streets, protesting for an end to Puerto Rico’s colonial regime, and, in the most extreme of cases, actively fighting against US rule through armed revolutionary action and terrorism. Groups like the FALN, for example, favored the use of bombs, targeting sites as centers of capitalist greed or imperialist oppression. Specifically, from the 1970s to the 1980s, the FALN “claimed responsibility for more than 120 bombings of military and government buildings, financial institutions, and corporate headquarters” throughout much of the north-eastern United States.
Interestingly, the places of operation for groups like the FALN seem to match up with the states that have historically had the largest Puerto Rican migrant populations on the mainland. This may seem initially unsurprising, but this suggests that first and second-generation Puerto Ricans on the mainland may have brought with them ideas of revolutionary action and extremism. This begs the question: did revolutionary activism migrate with the Puerto Rican exoduses from the island or was it cultivated on the US mainland? What generation contributed the most to these sorts of extremist, terrorist actions? Did these actions take part in mostly Puerto Rican neighborhoods, or were bombings conducted ‘beyond the periphery’ of migrant communities? These three questions form my argument for this digital history project; by tracking Puerto Rican migrations to the mainland along with bombing incidents in the US perpetrated by Puerto Rican revolutionary groups, I hypothesize that anti-American sentiment came with nationalist intellectuals and activists leaving the island around the 1950s and 1960s. Of great interest will be whether or not second-generation Puerto Ricans carried on this style of resistance on the mainland or if this generational divide is the root cause for the shift to non-violence observed in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
For my sources, I will use both primary and secondary material. My previous research projects on the period have provided me with a wealth of primary sources from the period, ranging from political communiques to government documents cataloging bombing sites. For secondary material, I will use literature on the formation of Puerto Rican national identities, the concept of the Puerto Rican diaspora, the modus operandi of Puerto Rican nationalist groups, and census data tracking the migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland. Regarding my platforms for this project, I will be using three programs primarily: Omeka, Social Explorer, and ArcGIS. Through Social Explorer, I will track and visualize the ‘migratory hotspots’ in the United States – limited only by what available census data I can find. In ArcGIS, I will export my findings from Social Explorer into ArcMap to then geo-reference bombing sites on the mainland. Finally, I will export my maps and plug them into Omeka, along with primary source material to create an exhibit and digital archive on the story of the Puerto Rican diaspora occurring in the backdrop of Puerto Rican revolutionary nationalism and terrorism in the United States.
 In example, the FALN explained their bombing of the Fraunces Tavern on January 24, 1975 as an attack on the “reactionary corporate executives” located inside at the time. The attack was also meant as a warning to the “North American Government” that “to terrorize and kill our people would mean retaliation by us.” Latin American Studies, “Communique No. 3 on January 24, 1975,” Communiques, Puerto Rican Separatists: Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN).
 “Entries: Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional,” Entries, Encyclopedia of Chicago, accessed March 17, 2018, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/489.html.
 Critically in the wake of the failed October uprising in 1950 on Puerto Rico.