Institutt for sosialantropologi

Should I Stay or Should I Go? - An Anthropological Study of the Puerto Rican Migration Process


By: Stine Bøthun

Supervisor: Professor John Chr Knudsen

This thesis examines migration as a phenomenon through the lenses of three Puerto Rican families and their extended network of friends and neighbours. Moving from family, friends and a home and culture you know by heart to an unknown destination involves serious cognitive-emotional considerations. Migration is not just a physical, geographic relocation. The migration journey starts a lot earlier than the actual physical movement from one geographical location to another. The journey begins in the thoughts and dreams of the migrant. The mind is where the migrant forms an image of how his or her new life will be and what consequences leaving your home, culture, and perhaps family will have not only for yourself, but for relatives, friends and your local community.

Even if the advantages and disadvantages are mapped out and measured, it is not always certain that the migrant will follow what seems to be the materially best option. Insecurity, hope, expectations, fear and excitement are all feelings, thoughts and dreams that may change, are often ambiguous in nature and can also coexist and emerge almost at the same time, depending on issues such as the stage of the migration, the context of the migration and the individual characteristics of the migrant.

In this thesis, I build an inductive theoretical model based on my fieldwork and a rigorous discussion of theories on migration, and the role of cognition and emotions in anthropological research. This analytical model is called the cognitive-emotional migration process. I then compare this model to my ethnographic material. Through oral histories from 28 individuals, these family members describe their thoughts, feelings and decisions on whether to leave the place they grew up in and know intimately, for an unknown life on the U.S. mainland. They describe what drives or drove them to migrate (or not to migrate), and the ambiguities often involved in such decisions.

The ethnography I present in this thesis is based on multi-sited-fieldwork, participant observations, life stories, conversations and interviews with Puerto Ricans in three distinct geographical locations: San Juan (Puerto Rico), Florida and New York (U.S. mainland). I thus include all the different phases of the migration process: the pre-migration-, relocation-, post-migration-, return migration- and circular migration phase(s).

My argument is that anthropological studies of migration as a phenomenon can benefit from including elements from cognitive anthropology such as feelings, dreams, hopes and thoughts. By analyzing migration experiences, I identify cognitive and emotional mechanisms influencing my informants in the different phases in the migration process: both before the migration and after the migration has taken place. By mapping the compounds between cognition, emotions and migration experiences in two different generations of migrants, I place the Puerto Rican migration pattern in a historic context, and furthermore explore how Puerto Rican migrant experiences appear as an ongoing cognitive-emotional journey.