Thursday, July 17, 2014

La Vuelta Podcast: Newark's Puerto Rican Riots

The riots that shook Newark, New Jersey in the summer of 1967 have long since defined the city.  All of the key issues in the difficult 20th century history of America’s urban centers seemed to be at play in New Jersey’s largest city that July: corruption, police brutality, poverty, white flight and black political ascendancy.  Perhaps no other city in the country—save perhaps for the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, which had its own riots in 1965—has been as identified with a riot as has Newark. 

For years, however, the events of 1967 overshadowed other aspects of Newark’s history.  As deeply connected as Newark has been to the urban history of the United States and especially to African-American history, the city is also home to significant numbers of Latinos.  Today, Latinos account for one third of the city’s population and, after years of population decline, it is they who have helped the city’s population grow from 273,671 in 2000 to just over 277,000 residents in 2010.

The emergence of Latinos as an important part of Newark’s population has led to reexamination of the city’s history and especially its Latino history.  Thousands of Puerto Ricans migrated to Newark starting in the 1950s and while their numbers never reached those of the Puerto Rican communities in neighboring New York City, their impact on the city was obvious, especially in places such as the city’s North Ward.  One example of this search for Newark’s Latino history is a recent exhibition, organized by Prof. Michelle Chase and her students at Bloomfield College, which highlights a long-forgotten violent confrontation between Newark’s Puerto Ricans and the police in 1974.  The Newark Puerto Rican Riots were less deadly and costly than the riots of 1967.  But as Professor Chase points out in a recent interview, they are an important chapter in the political development of Newark’s Latino community.

The exhibition is on view at the Bloomfield College library until August 29th.