A Private Perspective.
I was born in the Dominican Republic. Being
from this island sugar cane and sugar are an intrinsic part of my life.
In my country sugar is as important as rice, beans or any other food staple.
When I was a child sugar cane was even an important part of our entertainment.
The sugar cane, when it is ready to be harvested, sprouts a stalk, that
we called Pendón. This pendón was widely searched for by
children. It was the primary material for the construction of home made
kites, Chichiguas in the Dominican Republic or Chiringas in Puerto Rico.
Therefore during this season you would see an infinite crowd of kids roaming
the sugar cane fields in search of the cherished stick. Later in life a
single incident would bring sugar back to my attention.
I was probably six or seven years old, I do not remember precisely, when my association with the sugar world commenced. I lived with my parents in a sugar town of the Dominican Republic. I remember the town, Quisqueya. Quisqueya was, or is, the home of the Central Quisqueya or Quisqueya Sugar Mill. I vaguely remember that the town was surrounded by sugar cane fields.
I recall the trains crossing the town, pulling an endless column of wagons full of sugar cane. I recall that the town was divided in two sections: one with roomy and solid houses, the other a shanty town with huts at the brink of falling apart. Later I found out that the reason we moved there was because my great uncle was a foreman at the sugar-cane mill and that he had procured a job for my father in the sugar factory.
I recall the Bateyes-that is the name of the town
where the sugar-cane workers lived. I recall their houses falling apart;
the smell of herring or Arenque stuck in my mind as a synonym for misery.
My father liked to eat Arenque, but when by stepmother cooked it she closed
all the windows so the neighbors would not know and gossip.
I recall that most of the sugar-cane workers were Haitians. Furthermore I recall that they were not welcome on our side of the town. I recall their children, I played with some of them, not their faces or names but their nakedness. I recall running with them after the sugar trains. Now I recall all of this and ponder about all the things I might have forgotten.
All of these memories were hidden for many years.
All came rushing back when I moved to Puerto Rico. I moved my family to
Puerto Rico in 1989. We settled in a town named Aguada. The first thing
that caught my attention were the sugar-cane fields adorning both sides
of the Inter-State road. In Aguada I confronted my past again. My familiarity
with sugar emerged once more. It was very different from my childhood's
memories. There were no Bateyes; no naked children running around, no train
noises; and I could not sense the smell of Arenque. As the town of Quisqueya
Aguada was home to a sugar mill: Coloso. And in the past Coloso was the
center of the town's economy. One day in January of 1992, while driving
home, there was a huge bottleneck in the road, the traffic came to stand
still. The reason for it was that the sugar-cane workers had declared a
strike. Some truck drivers refused to move their trucks others drove so
slowly that the traffic was halted. It was obvious that through this display
they wanted to accomplish two things: one, to reveal their anger and dissatisfaction;
two, to make the public aware of the situation. This incident is the reason
I decided to examine the history of sugar cane.
That day I realized that more than twenty years had passed since I was introduced to sugar. And although things had changed something was, still, the same. That day I concluded that I needed to know the history of the sugar-cane worker. In this work are some of the answers I yearned for. They will, I hope, appease my memories and take me back home.
This work is a chronological account of the development of the sugar industry in Puerto Rico. At the same time it will discuss the nature of the connection and the relation between the industry and the labor force. The first chapter will introduce a historical background of the genesis of the sugar universe. It will cover from the arrival of the Spaniards to the 1898, the US invasion of the island, and the departure of Spain. The second chapter will cover from 1898 to 1920s. This chapter will contemplate the arrival of the US to Puerto Rico, the change in ownership of the sugar industry and the changes among the labor organizations in the island.
The third chapter will emphasize the crisis that the industry faced from 1928 to the 1930s, its economic situation and the situation/conditions of the sugar-cane workers, and the development of the labor movement. The finale, chapter four, will analyze the patterns and various forms of labor unrest and the relationship among the various labor brokers and the sugar industry.