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I Am Not Your Immigrant: Puerto Ricans, Liminal Citizenship, and Politics in Florida

How does a political system designed to maintain Puerto Ricans at the periphery produce a group that is now at the center of national politics? My current book project capitalizes on the rise of Florida as Puerto Ricans' new primary destination to answer this question. In the past ten years, over five-hundred thousand Puerto Ricans left Puerto Rico, making this exodus comparable to the Puerto Rican "Great Migration" of the 1950s. Instead of New York, Florida is now the leading destination for both island and mainland Puerto Ricans. In fact, at 1.1 million, Florida's Puerto Rican population rivals New York's long-standing Puerto Rican community. Moreover, Puerto Ricans are now Florida's second-largest Latino group. The shift away from traditional destinations in the Northeast and Midwest to the South means Puerto Ricans have settled in a vastly different racial and political context.  This research draws on 12 months of participant observation and 112 in-depth interviews with Puerto Ricans in Orlando, Florida to theorize contemporary Puerto Rican migration and incorporation, inter/intra group relations, and the institution of U.S. citizenship. In I am Not Your Immigrant, I develop the concept of colonial racialized citizenship to provide a framework for understanding Puerto Ricans' unequal political relationship with the state, group level relations that are racial, and Puerto Ricans' growing significance in Florida.     

I argue the concept of colonial racialized citizenship explains various dimensions of the contemporary Puerto Rican experience. For example, a colonial racialized citizenship does not only account for coloniality as a key structural force producing contemporary Puerto Rican migration, it also captures the ways in which coloniality influences the rise of new destinations of migration and the incorporation pathways of a citizen group. The concept of colonial racialized citizenship also explains a hostile social and institutional context of reception in Central Florida. Specifically, resistance to Puerto Ricans' growing presence in the region, local perceptions of Puerto Ricans as foreign and removable, and efforts to institutionally marginalize Puerto Ricans. This form of citizenship also explicates Puerto Rican and Latino relations characterized by tension, struggle, and cooperation. However, Puerto Ricans also assert agency within the confines of colonial racialized citizenship. Puerto Ricans engage in the act of migration to resist colonial conditions in Puerto Rico and they draw on their status as U.S. citizens to make claims to rights, space, and institutions in Central Florida. This form of citizenship also positions Puerto Ricans to become political entrepreneurs who are creating political projects and leading mobilizing efforts. I contend that through various acts of agency, Florida Puerto Ricans have become a potentially transformative electorate in the largest swing state of the nation and critical to the national politics.            

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