In Geraldo Rivera's new book, he examines the growth of the Hispanic population in the United States.
The journalist tackles the highly divisive issue of illegal immigration, specifically focusing on Hispanics. Rivera references his parents' struggle to assimilate into American culture, as well as other ethnic Americans who try to do the same.
Rivera uses "His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S." to try to explain why the immigration issue is such a sensitive one in America. Read an unedited excerpt of the book below.
First, let me tell you my father's story, just one Hispanic family among millions. Like the overwhelming majority of immigrants Hispanic otherwise, the Riveras of Puerto Rico worked hard, served our country in many different ways and made enormous efforts to assimilate, despite the obstacle of prejudice.
My dad always wanted to fit into America, his "new" country. Well, technically the country wasn't new because US citizenship had been bestowed on him and all current and future Puerto Ricans by legislation called the Jones Act in 1917. The United States had been in possession of the lovely tropical island it had conquered from Spain for only 20 years, and Cruz Rivera was just two years old, the sixth of seventeen children born to Juan and Tomása Rivera of Bayamon, Puerto Rico.
"How could you have so many children?" I remember asking my grandmother, a woman of enormous patience and good humor who wore her snow white hair pulled back contrasting dramatically with her angular, chocolate-colored face made leathery by the sun. "Times were different then," she replied in fabulous understatement, referring to their modest agrarian lifestyle in the sugarcane and coffee economy that dominated the island in the days before commonwealth. My grandfather helped manage one small operation and each child became another income earner, cutting and stacking cane watched over by a slightly older sibling.
With citizenship bestowed, the new Americans were free to roam and the Puerto Rican Diaspora began, with island residents leaving their then largely rural society for the far-flung corners of the industrialized mainland United States. Most like my dad came to New York City.
When the now 21-year old Cruz arrived on board one of the New York and Porto Rico Steam Ship Company's "banana boats" in 1937 more than 50,000 of his fellow islanders lived here. The number had been higher, nearly double earlier in the decade, but the Great Depression had unleashed a torrent of bitter racism toward the newcomers who, like the immigrants of today, were thought to be stealing jobs from "real" Americans. So thousands had gone home to the island. My dad and several of his siblings were determined to stay.
He met my mom Lilly Friedman at Stewart's Cafeteria on 6th Avenue and 42nd Street. He was a counterman there; she was a pretty brunette from Jersey City who cleared dishes and waited tables. She is Jewish, he was Catholic, but he spoke English fluently, having learned as the valedictorian of his Bayamon high school. He proposed marriage, promised to convert to Judaism, (which as a lay deacon of the church he never got around to doing). He had been on the mainland for only three years and was keen on assimilating, becoming even more American.