AGPR Graduate Student Intern Research Blogs
Bridging Boricuas in the Constitution State: PRIDCO and Bridgeport, Connecticut Businesses in Puerto Rico, 1954-1992
Amanda Rivera--American Studies-Yale University
Embarking on the AGPR archival internship this summer, I wasn’t expecting to find connections to my specific region of interest, Connecticut. Roughly the size of Puerto Rico itself, the Constitution State is a bit of an oddball. The southernmost part of New England, Connecticut just barely qualifies as a part of New England, and its proximity to New York gives it a quasi-Mid-Atlantic feel. (Anecdotally speaking, I suspect New London County might be the dividing line between Yankees and Red Sox fans.) Likewise, in Puerto Rican Studies, Connecticut is a blip on many scholars’ radars. While academics have been decentralizing New York as the primary site of Puerto Rican diaspora in the last fifteen years or so (Mérida Rúa, Ana Ramos-Zayas and Mirelsie Velásquez in Chicago; Patricia Silver, Simone Delerme and Shantee Rosado in Orlando; etc.), Connecticut remains largely absent from social scientific literature. This is especially ironic, given the fact that, according to a recent CENTRO study, Connecticut has the 6th largest Puerto Rican diasporic population, and its capital, Hartford, has the densest Puerto Rican population of any city on the mainland. (Nashia Román, “Puerto Ricans in Connecticut, 2010-2016,” data sheet for CENTRO: the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, issued June 2018)
Imagine my surprise, then, when I stumbled upon multiple references – 9, in fact – to Connecticut as either the site of parent companies conducting business in Puerto Rico, or as an overall crucial site of commerce for the Puerto Rican businesses in the latter half of the 20th century. For example, the Universal Cigar Corporation of Gurabo, per a September 20, 1982 visiting form, mentions Connecticut as a site for their sourcing of raw material. Further, Jorge Saldaña, one of ten directors of Toa Alta Cement Company, took post-graduate courses at both the University of Connecticut and the Hartford College of Insurance.
In addition, I found correspondence with the Hamilton Manufacturing Company (likely a recording equipment manufacturer) in New Haven (misspelled as New “Heaven”); the Emhart Corporation (a glass machinery manufacturer) in Hartford; the Union Carbide Corporation (a chemical corporation) in Danbury; U.S. Time Corporation/Incorporated (watch-makers) in Waterbury (with connections to the Timex Corporation in Middlebury); and the Orange Pulp Company (food manufacturing), Valve Corporation of America (aerosol valves), and Warnaco, Inc. (clothing) in Bridgeport. For the purposes of this post, I’ll concentrate my analyses on two of the Bridgeport-based companies: the Valve Corporation of America and Warnaco, Inc.
The Valve Corporation: Complicating Racial Capitalism on La Isla del Encanto
The Valve Corporation of America, based in Bridgeport, Connecticut, began exploring the possibility of opening a plant in Caguas to make aerosol valves, under the leadership of an Emilio Morales, Chief Lab Technician of cosmetics and related products, in 1962. I want to emphasize the possibility that Morales was probably Puerto Rican himself. According to a 1962 visiting report, while Philip Sagarin appears to be the CEO of the Valve Corp. at this time, “it was decided to include the visit to Fomento in Mr. Morales’s vacation at the last minute.” Morales, who “has been in this type of business for the last 10-12 years and knows it from the ground up”, wanted “to return to Puerto Rico to live there” and was “confident that in the event that Mr. Sagarin decided to establish a manufacturing plant in Puerto Rico he (Mr. Morales) would be qualified to manage the operation.”
I would like to underscore a few things. First, Morales’s travel to and from Puerto Rico, assuming he’s Puerto Rican, underscores the fluidity of Puerto Rican migration between the mainland and the island, as many scholars have noted (Jorge Duany, for example, in the Puerto Rican Nation on the Move). Second, and rather crucially, Puerto Ricans were hardly passive participants in the racial capitalist project of PRIDCO. Morales not only participated in the exploration of Puerto Rico as a new site of enterprise for the Valve Corp. – he was instrumental in utilizing the Caribbean tax haven, demonstrated in Sagarin’s ultimate application for exemption in 1965. This complicates the traditional narrative of Puerto Rico’s history of racialized economic exploitation. Much like Ismael Garcia-Colón demonstrates in his most recent work Colonial Migrants at the Heart of Empire: Puerto Rican Workers and U.S. Farms (2020), Puerto Ricans likewise shaped the very policies meant to marginalize them.
By 1966, after the purchase of the operations of Shaw Harrison Corporation, Custom Molders of P.R., Inc., and Caguas Plastics, the Valve Corp. plant in Caguas had opened, albeit unsuccessfully. Per a July 24, 1975 letter from “V.C.A. de P.R., Inc.” vice president Lawrence Phillips, to acting director Fernando Ramírez, by July 11, 1975, the decision was made “to discontinue all manufacturing operations in the Caguas Plant” and give social assistance and severance to “all active employees engaged in work at the time of the shut down”.
Warnaco Inc. and Weaving the Threads of Business Acquisitions
Finally, Warnaco, Inc. has a bit of a convoluted story. Per the (confusing) paper trail, what became known as Warnaco appears to have started off as three separate businesses, all located in Aguas Buenas: Alto Knitting Mills, Superior Knitting Mills, and Insular Dye Works. As of May 1954, all three businesses made clothing or textile-related products. Alto Knitting Mills and Insular Dye Works were owned by the Landau Knitting Corporation, based out of Keyport, New Jersey. While not explicitly stated, since Superior Knitting Mills was listed in 1971 as a part of the Puritan Sportswear Corporation, it can be assumed that when Puritan, based out of Altoona, Pennsylvania, bought out Alto Mills in January 1962, Puritan acquired Superior Knitting Mills and Insular Dye Works, too. Sweaters were the main product manufactured at this time.
In 1965, Puritan was bought out by Warner Brothers (not the film company), and the company was seeking to expand operations in Cidra. Products and locations shifted – the acquiring of a sportswear factory in 1960s Guaynabo saw an opportunity to make bras, before ultimately closing in 1972. Further, the 1970s saw the expansion of Warner Brothers, now called Warnaco Men’s Sportswear, throughout Puerto Rico, with factories not only in Aguas Buenas and Cidra, but also Comerío and Carolina. Per Warnaco’s 1976 annual report however, “Warnaco had a very bad year in 1976.” Warnaco Men’s Sportswear, specifically, were put in a “second group” of concern for Warnaco – not exactly on the chopping block, but requiring “major changes in management, merchandising, and facilities” to “bring substantial improvement”. While the company appeared to maintain its factories in Cidra and Aguas Buenas through the 1980s, Warnaco Inc. officially ended its Puerto Rican operations in 1992.
As tricky as it was navigating this complicated tale of shifting ownership and expansion, the relationship between Fomento and this Bridgeport enterprise was mutually enjoyed. A letter dated March 23, 1973, from Julio Rodríguez, Area Director - Regional Offices of the Department of Industrial Services (Fomento) to Mr. Phil Lamearoux, President of Warner’s in Bridgeport, celebrates the company’s 20th anniversary in Puerto Rico. Rodríguez writes, “Industrial firms like Warner’s really contribute to our industrial development by setting the pace for others and constituting a showcase of the advantages of Puerto Rico’s industrial climate.” Little did Rodríguez know that roughly 20 years after this letter, Warnaco’s abandonment of Puerto Rican operations would play a part in the devastation of Puerto Rico’s economy, throughout the end of the 20th century and well into the 21st.
As I write this, I have returned to New Haven to begin my third year of graduate studies, in which, among many tasks, I will be writing my dissertation proposal. In doing so, I want to keep in mind these important, albeit understudied, connections between Connecticut and Puerto Rico. In my anticipated fieldwork, I will carry these reflections with me to develop my understanding of the nuances of puertorriquenidad in the Constitution State.
Abby’s Archival Adventure in the Archipelago: From Fortaleza to Bomba
Figure 1: Abigail Vázquez Rosario sorting through Colección Fortaleza
Abigail Vázquez Rosario – Communication, Caribbean/Latinx Studies & Digital Humanities– University of Maryland
August 31, 2023
A big thank you!
I had my outfit picked out and hanging by my door the night prior as I could barely contain my excitement before embarking on my first day as an archival intern at the Archivo General, the National Archive of Puerto Rico. Despite my jet lag, I couldn’t sleep the night before as I stared at the ceiling fan, imagining not only how my first day working in the Archivo General would go but also my first time having the opportunity to work in Puerto Rico after living in the diaspora for 19 years.
Just last year when I was struggling to find historical documents in Puerto Rico for my own doctoral research projects and after searching tirelessly in my university databases for all the Caribbean and Latinx Guides, I stumbled across the Rutgers University Puerto Rico Library Collection which was invaluable for me as a researcher. I never thought the following year I would have the chance to work alongside Dr. Aldo Lauria Santiago, the pioneer and organizer of the Rutgers Center for Latin American Studies Puerto Rico Archival and Library Collection Project in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico System and Yale University Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.
I am forever grateful to Dr. Aldo Lauria Santiago who launched this internship opportunity to support these institutions that are under-resourced due to the ongoing economic and compounding crises as a result of natural disasters in Puerto Rico. Dr. Aldo Lauria Santiago has helped build the bridge for Diasporicans, such as myself, to work in Puerto Rico and has employed countless local students and scholars through his research funds in the archipelago to work towards the same mission to preserve and digitize archives indispensable to the history of Puerto Rico.
COVID-19 and Bomba and Plena Projects
Working as an archival intern at the Archivo General, organizing the Fortaleza (20th Century Governors) collection, and having access to historical documents that are not yet digitized was foundational for my research projects and dissertation. I am currently working on a project examining Culturally-Centered approaches to COVID-19 vaccination health messages in Puerto Rico amid the compounding crises. While organizing the Fortaleza Collection, I accessed countless vaccination records and official health reports that are critical to understanding the historical context of barriers to healthcare in the archipelago for this project. Furthermore, I had access to historical recordings of both Bomba and Plena in the music archive that is not yet available for public use due to staffing limitations. Accessing these music recordings has allowed me to further develop the groundwork for my dissertation where I am interested in examining how both Bomba and Plena, two Afro-Puerto Rican music traditions and forms of resistance have been preserved and are still very much alive on the island, diaspora, and digital spaces.
Figure 2: Vaccination Record from the Board of Health in the Fortaleza Collection
Figure 3: Historical Recordings of Bomba Sureña de Ponce in the Music Archive thanks to Marcos Nieves
Figure 4: Historical Recordings of Plenas in the Music Archive thanks to Marcos Nieves
This experience has been transcendental for me. This was my first time working in Puerto Rico, my first time being in a room full of Puerto Rican scholars, and my first time having access to primary sources about my community in a physical archive. This opportunity was not just a job and much less merely a CV line for me, every time I would open an expediente in the Coleccion Fortaleza, I knew I was reading someone’s story that needs to be shared such as Carmen González’s in Figure 5. There’s a certain standard of care all of us in the Puerto Rico Archival Collaboration, archivists, librarians, professors, interns, put into our work for the preservation of history and desarrollo of research in our patria.
Figure 5: Correspondence from Carmen González from Mayagüez writing to the governor seeking Hurricane Relief
Despite only working in the archives for 5 weeks, we were able to make significant contributions as part of the larger effort to preserve, organize, and make collections publicly available for scholarly use. During my short time in the internship, I was able to create an inventory of each file in box 261 (Figure 6) of the Fortaleza Collection, Jaden Morales and I were able to create a guide for boxes 262-426 (Figure 7) that is now publicly available for researchers to easily find materials they need for their projects, and Rosa Cordero helped organize the nineteenth-century trials.
Figure 6: Box 261 in Fortaleza Collection
Figure 7: Fortaleza Collection Boxes 262-426 in Depositary
Although we made a lot of progress this summer, there is still a lot of work to be done! In Figure 8, this is an image of just one shelf, from one archival storage unit, from one wing that needs to be preserved and digitized. There are more than tens of thousands of square feet and 5 floors and 7 wings filled with tens of millions of archival texts that still need organizing and digitizing in the Archivo General. This work would not be possible without the continued sponsorship of universities across the country funding their students to work as interns and grants from organizations like the Mellon Foundation and Fundación Puertorriqueña de las Humanidades (FPH) Grant to name a few. The Puerto Rico Archival Collaboration Project is working towards creating guides and digitizing collections such as the Colección Departamento del Trabajo, Autoridad de Tierras, Comisión de Servicios Públicos, Servicios Sociales, Junta de Planificacion, Departamento de Comercio y Agricultura, Gobernadores Norteamericanos, and many others. I also hope the Archivo General gets enough funding and staffing in the future to create a Black Puerto Rican History Collection.
Figure 8: Registros de Centros Azucareras in Deposito 5
As I write this from the diaspora, I start my third year in my Ph.D. program and my last year of coursework. I’m currently taking Advanced Historical and Critical Methods in Communication Research and registered for this class before embarking on this journey to the archives to employ decolonial archival praxis when disseminating the wide array of knowledge I gained from the Archivo General this summer. This experience has been foundational for my research projects and I hope to secure funding in the future to return to the archives and view more materials I can’t access from the diaspora on Bomba and Plena for my dissertation. I would like to say a special thank you to my cousins Junito and Cristina for letting me stay at their house during this internship and making it possible for me to participate in this experience. And, I am eternally grateful to Dr. Aldo Lauria Santiago, Pedro Roig, Hilda Ayala González, Marcos Nieves, and the entire Archivo General and Biblioteca Nacional team for this opportunity!